Obama Was First President to Spend More on Welfare Than Defense
Barack Obama was the first president of the United States to spend more on “means-tested entitlements”—AKA welfare—than on national defense, according to data published by his own Office of Management and Budget.
Historical tables that the OMB posted on the Obama White House website, include annual totals for both “national defense” spending and “means-tested entitlement” spending going back to fiscal 1962–which is three years before President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating the Medicaid program, a means-tested entitlement that together with the Children’s Health Insurance Program enrolled 74,407,191 beneficiaries as of November 2016.
In every year from fiscal 1962 through fiscal 2014, total national defense spending exceeded means-tested entitlement spending.
In fiscal year 1962, for example, the federal government spent more than twelve times as much money on national defense ($52,345,000,000) as it did on means-test entitlements ($4,300,000,000).
However, national defense spending peaked in 2011, when it hit $705,554,000,000. By contrast, means-tested entitlement spending has increased each year since 2012.
Finally, in fiscal 2015, it exceeded national defense spending for the first time.
In fiscal 2014, according to OMB Historical Table 3.2, “total national defense” spending was $603,457,000,000. That same year, according to OMB Historical Table 8.1, “means-tested entitlement” spending was $601,700,000,000.
But in fiscal 2015, total national defense spending declined to $589,965,000,000 while means-tested entitlement spending climbed to $666,900,000,000. Thus, fiscal 2015 became the first year that means-tested entitlement spending—welfare spending–exceeded national defense spending.
The fiscal 2016 numbers published in the OMB’s Historical Tables are estimates, but they show means-tested entitlements exceeding national defense spending $709,600,000,000 to $604,452,000,000.
The federal government accounts for “national defense” spending as budget function category 050. As summarized by the House Budget Committee, it includes “the military activities of the Department of Defense (DoD), the nuclear-weapons related activities of the Department of Energy (DoE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration.” It also includes “the national security activities of several other agencies such as the Selective Service Agency, and portions of the activities of the Coast Guard and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” It further includes “the pay and benefits of active, Guard, and reserve military personnel” and the “health care for military personnel and dependents.”
The introduction to the OMB’s Historical Tables defines and lists the means-tested entitlements included in Table 8.1. “These programs include entitlement programs that limit benefits or payments based on beneficiary income and/or assets,” it says. “Also included are payments from refundable tax credits that are phased out at certain income (generally, Adjusted Gross Income) levels.”
Among the 26 means-tested entitlement programs listed by the OMB are: food stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Security Income program, refundable Earned Income Tax Credits. It also includes “Veterans’ Pensions benefits.” This programs is not counted as a part of category 050 national defense spending but category 700 veterans spending. “The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers pension programs for certain low-income veterans and their surviving spouses and dependent children,” the Congressional Research Service explains.
The Republicans won control of the Senate–and, thus, both houses of Congress–in the national election held in November 2014, a little more than one month into fiscal 2015. In December 2014, a lame-duck Congress, composed of a Republican-majority House and Democrat-majority Senate, passed an omnibus spending bill that funded the government through fiscal 2015, which ended on Sept. 30, 2015. In fiscal 2016, which ran from Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016, the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the Democrats controlled the White House with President Obama.
The Republicans now control both houses of Congress and the White House. Spending bills enacted in the current Congress will need to pass a Republican House, a Republican Senate and be signed by a Republican president.