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

Posted on September 15, 2015 by Chris Chmura

Another budget showdown this fall seems inevitable. The President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2016 calls for $561 billion in defense spending (excluding overseas contingency operations).  That’s $38 billion above sequestration levels.

Ultimately, however, 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 in each president’s budget proposal (the dashed line) compared with the actual funding levels passed by Congress (the solid black line).[1]

President's Proposed DoD Budget vs. Actual

1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 350 400 450 500 550 600 650 700 750 800 850 Budget Authoirty for Department of Defense- Military Programs ($ Billions, adjusted for inflation) Fiscal Year


Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan

George H.W. Bush

Bill Clinton

George W. Bush

Barack Obama

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.  As in the past, we should expect changes to this year’s proposed budget.

Research support was provided by Patrick Clapp.

[1] This chart is a reproduction of Figure 21 in the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments’ Analysis of the FY2015 Defense Budget, recalculated and updated with the FY2016 Budget. The numbers are shown in 2015 dollars.

This blog reflects Chmura staff assessments and opinions with the information available at the time the blog was written.