In Fiscal 2012 the Defense Department asked for $553 billion in its base budget and $118 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ever wonder how much of that you specifically might have been on the hook for?
The White House on Wednesday unveiled a new "Federal Taxpayer Receipt" tool that lets you plug in the amount you paid in taxes and shows how all of it was distributed across the federal government, from the National Soup Administration to the Bureau of Nuts. At the very top of your "receipt" is the listing "national defense."
At 24.9 percent of the "receipt," national defense is the biggest single piece of this pie, which the White House breaks down further by accounting for "Military personnel salaries and benefits;" "Ongoing operations, equipment and supplies;" "Research, development, weapons and construction;" "Atomic energy defense activities;" and "Defense-related FBI activities and additional national defense."
So a hypothetical family of four -- two married adults and two kids -- that earned about $80,000 in 2011 paid a total of $9,110 in income and payroll taxes, according to one preset case. Of that, $1,142.91 went to "national defense," including $266.22 for salaries and benefits; $472.77 for ongoing operations; $362.61 for weapons and construction; $32.12 for "atomic;" and $9.18 for "Defense-related FBI," etc.
The next biggest section of the receipt is "health care," which accounts for 23.7 percent, and then everything else falls off a cliff by comparison. "International affairs" is only 1.6 percent, for a total of $73.44, and with that you bought "Development and humanitarian assistance;" "security assistance;" and "foreign affairs, embassies and additional international affairs." You paid 4.5 percent for "Veterans benefits," or $206.55 for our hypothetical family.
Here's another interesting tidbit: After defense, health care and "job and family security," the biggest slice of this receipt, at 8.1 percent, is "net interest" -- service on the national debt. That partly reflects the imbalance between the amount the federal government has been spending and the amount it takes in, with the difference made up by borrowed money. Last year's war over the near-term solution to that dilemma is what gave us the farce of the "super committee" and now has left the Pentagon terrified that "sequestration" will take effect in January.
The White House's spending receipt tool is transparently political -- it asks if you knew that "1,470 people who made more than $1 million in 2009 paid $0 in federal income taxes" and promises President Obama's proposed new tax would "ensure everyone pays their fair share." Still, the budget is what it is, so there's only so much the White House can do to sell the president beyond just presenting the numbers and percentages. The question is, what will people do after seeing a pie chart in which nearly one quarter is defense spending?