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Defense Budgets and Actual Funding: Presidents Don’t Typically Get What They Ask For



A 2-year federal budget deal has been reached, eliminating the sequester and raising the debt ceiling through July 2021. Departing from a trend since fiscal year (FY) 2018, the defense budget for FY2020 is below what was requested in the President’s Budget.

The president’s annual budget is a proposal but ultimately budgeting is decided in Congress, and a look back at previous budget proposals shows that the president never gets exactly what he asks for. The chart below shows a five-year projection of Department of Defense (DoD) funding from each president’s budget proposal (the dashed lines) compared with the actual funding levels passed by Congress (the solid black line).[1][2]



Differences between proposed and actual budgets have varied by president—especially during the last drawdown in defense spending in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Defense spending has picked up since 2015 and based on the deal reached, spending is expected to continue to rise through the 2020 election.



[1] This chart is a based on Figure 21 in the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments’ Analysis of the FY2015 Defense Budget, recalculated and updated with the FY2020 Budget. The numbers are shown in 2019 dollars.


[2] Actual spending is through FY2018. Although the budget authority is unlikely to change, FY2019 does not end until September 30.

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