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Politico’s Too Political Headline

The banner over Roger’s, a Senior Congressional Correspondent at POLITICO, front-page piece for February 1, 2010 reads, “War Squeeze Obama Budget,” puts an erroneous political spin on the news surrounding the release of the President’s proposed federal budget. It may not be David Rogers’ fault. Editors pick headlines. Still, article’s skews the truth about proposed federal spending for the upcoming year.

Suggesting that defense spending on war-related costs for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are the principle factors driving a growing federal budget and exploding national debt is simply untrue. President Barack Obama submitted a $3.8 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2011 to Congress today. War cost amount for about one percent of the budget. Indeed, defense spending overall is increasingly less significant factor in the overall budget. Defense spending is less than one-fifth of the federal budget.  Furthermore, in contrast to the Reagan era “[n]ational defense now ranks fourth in overall government spending priorities, falling behind the combined cost of Social Security and Medicare, public education, and means-tested welfare aid.” Indeed, there many competing explanations for the pressure to grow government including billions of dollars in new spending for failed government programs, and higher taxes on American families and businesses.

In contrast to the title, buried on p.10 of the article, Rogers does get to the facts of the controversy over the defense spending debate. The issue is not the size of the Pentagon’s budget per se or its impact on federal spending overall but that “Democrats are increasingly agitated by the pace of withdrawal, and the combined costs of the two wars….”  The real truth is combined war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan is about $160 billion for both 2010 and 2011— that is actually less than in the last years of the Bush Administration

Rogers, to his credit points out that core defense spending is under the same pressure as other federal agencies. The Pentagon is “feeling the strain, and the President’s $549 billion request reflects less than 2 percent real growth over inflation.” In fact, real growth in defense budget is only about one percent (half of last year). Even that figure is misleading; the administration is reducing the money it sets aside for overseas contingency operations that means that paying for these activities will increasingly come at the expense of crowding out items in the core defense budget such as buying new equipment.