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Expect much gnashing of teeth from both sides of the aisle over upcoming defense cuts, but here's the reality: The cuts required under the Budget Control Act (the debt ceiling deal of last August) are going to be much great for non-defense programs than for the military. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has new analysis showing that, over the next decade, while defense spending is scheduled to shrink by 15.1 percent, non-defense domestic spending will get an even deeper 17.1 percent cut.
The disparity between the defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding paths is greater if one adopts a longer time horizon and looks at what will transpire over the two-decade period from 2001 to 2021. Between 2001 and 2021, non-defense discretionary funding will shrink by 0.96 percent of GDP, while defense funding will shrink by a little over half as much—by 0.58 percent of GDP. (See the appendix for details of the methodology.)

For both defense and NDD programs, the cuts (after adjusting for inflation) largely occur up front by 2013—the first year that sequestration will be in effect—rather than phasing in gradually over the decade. After 2013, the defense and NDD caps (as reduced by sequestration) will grow at about the same pace as expected inflation. Thus, the inflation-adjusted level of those caps will remain largely constant after 2013. [...]

The fact that, as Table 1 shows, NDD and defense funding will be higher in inflation-adjusted terms in 2021 than they were in 2001 does not mean that adhering to the caps in either area will be relatively easy or painless. To the contrary. Adjusting for inflation does not account for the impact of population growth on budgetary costs.

cpbb spending

So what's non-defense discretionary spending? A lot of everything that America needs:

[E]ducation (including grants to school districts to support primary and secondary schools and Pell Grants to low-income students); veterans’ health care; job training; law enforcement (e.g., FBI, DEA, border patrol); national parks; environmental protection; housing assistance; WIC, Head Start, and child care; biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health and scientific research through the National Science Foundation; the Centers for Disease Control; community health centers; food, drug, product, and workplace safety; the administrative costs of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and other entitlements; transportation (other than through the highway and mass transit trust funds); NASA; and the Treasury and State Departments.

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