One of the Highest Military Budgets in History

Line graph showing US military spending at a historical high level

Last week, the White House released President Biden’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2024, which begins October 1 of 2023. 

As usual, the biggest portion of the discretionary budget request - 52 percent - was for military spending. 

While that’s usual, what’s not usual is the sheer level of that military spending. The Biden request calls for $886 billion in spending for the military and war preparations. 

That’s near historical high levels, on par with spending at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – even though those wars officially ended with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August of 2021. 

It’s far higher than the height of military spending during the Reagan years at the height of the Cold War. Looking further back, the Biden request is higher than the height of the Vietnam or Korean wars, too. 

The Biden request is $28 billion higher than what Congress approved for regular military and nuclear weapons operations in 2023 (excluding most military aid for Ukraine). 

But the Biden request is just the beginning of the story. 

Biden’s request of $886 billion has no legal force. At best it’s an opening bid, and if past patterns hold, Congress will approve significantly more. In 2023, for example, the Biden request was for $813 billion, and Congress ultimately approved $858 billion. And if you add military aid from the Department of Defense to Ukraine, military spending in 2023 was more than $890 billion. 

We can fully expect Congress to follow this path again, if left to their own devices. Hawks will refuse to retire weapons systems, add new ones, or insist that we need more money for inflation - all tricks they successfully used in 2023 to bump up military spending. 

And the administration has promised to continue aid to Ukraine. While that now faces some opposition in Congress, the war in Ukraine shows no end in sight, so it’s likely that the U.S. is not done spending. 

All of that means that without serious pressure from outside, military spending in FY 2024 is shaping up to be one of the highest in history.

Note: The discretionary budget is the portion of the budget that Congress reallocates every year, which excludes things like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.