Defense Spending Has Been Growing More Rapidly Than Social Security

The NYT and every one else keeps saying that Social Security is one of the three most rapidly growing items in the budget. This is not true. Defense spending grew more rapidly over the last decade. We spent $655.8 billion on defense in 2009 more than double the $306.1 billion spent in 2001. $By comparison, Social Security spending rose by just over 50 percent during these years from $429.4 billion in 2001 to $677.7 billion last year. If we're looking forward, interest spending is projected to grow more rapidly. So it is simply inaccurate to list Social Security among the areas of most rapid spending growth in the budget.

Of course, in discussing Social Security spending serious reporters would point out that it is financed by a dedicated tax. Since payments are projected to be fully covered by this tax and the interest on the bonds held by the Social Security trust fund, cutting benefits would effectively amount to a default on the bonds held by the trust fund. Of course, if the U.S. budget situation really were sufficiently desperate (it isn't) then we would want to consider a partial default, but there would be no reason to default exclusively on the bonds held by the Social Security trust fund.

--Dean Baker

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