FACT CHECK: Trump Claims He Signed Into Law The Largest Military Budget On Record

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

President Donald Trump attended a rally in Missouri recently where he claimed that Congress had passed a record-setting military budget.

“And we secured a record $700 billion for our military this year, and $716 billion next year,” he told the audience.

Verdict: False

Congress approved a $700 billion defense bill for fiscal year 2018 and $716 billion for FY 2019. While these budgets are some of the highest in the last few decades, the budget was higher nominally, and when adjusted for inflation, during the Iraq War.

Fact Check:

In December of 2017, Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorized $700 billion in spending for FY 2018. This budget is for total national defense, which includes funding for the Department of Defense, war operations overseas and nuclear weapons programs within the Department of Energy.

The funds were officially appropriated as part of the $1.3 trillion omnibus in March. Increased spending will go towards numerous priorities, including a 2.4 percent pay raise for military personnel and additional funding for missile defense and ship building.

While this budget is one of the highest the U.S. has seen in recent decades, it is not a record. Congress authorized higher funding levels during the Iraq War. In FY 2011, $725 billion was authorized for national defense.

Defense spending has been constrained in recent years by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which capped the amount Congress could allocate each year. In February, Congress reached a deal to raise those caps to allow defense spending of $700 billion in FY 2018 and $716 billion in FY 2019.

To help put these numbers in perspective, researchers at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) provided us with historical data on the amount federal agencies could spend each year on national defense, known as their budget authority.

When calculated in constant dollars to account for inflation, the budget authority for total national defense was higher from 2007 to 2012.

In nominal terms, the budget authority for national defense was higher in 2010 and 2011, at $721 billion and $717 billion respectively, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The surge that began in 2001 is largely due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as Congress devoted considerable funds towards the war efforts. The peak came in 2010 when Congress granted more than $820 billion in FY 2018 dollars for national defense.

Prior to this, there was a considerable bump in the defense budget during the Reagan administration beginning in 1981 and a subsequent drop following the conclusion of the Cold War in 1991.

While statistics for budget authority are only available from 1976 onward, if we look at budget outlays (the actual amount spent), it shows that national defense spending was also comparatively greater during World War II. In 1945, it exceeded $900 billion in FY 2018 dollars, according to CSBA.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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