Would the Sequester Devastate Defense?

by Benjamin Zycher

A common assertion on the right is that the looming budget sequester would “devastate” the U.S. defense establishment. Using the defense deflator published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the defense baseline data published by the Comptroller of DoD, here are the defense baseline (excluding overseas operations and various other small ancillary functions) data for fiscal years 2001-2013, in constant fiscal year 2011 dollars. This baseline assumes that sequestration occurs. A chart accompanies the figures.

In a nutshell: With the sequester, defense spending in 2013 would be about 1 percent lower, in real terms, than in fiscal year 2008. Perhaps other federal spending yields less value and so should be cut first. But the sequester is the tool that we actually have. In a world in which approximately 1.4 million active-duty personnel are supported by upwards of 700,000 civilians, the devastation argument is less than wholly convincing. Perhaps the sequester will misallocate cuts across DoD, but that is a problem of the composition of the baseline budget rather than its size. Let the sequester begin.


— Benjamin Zycher is a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.