Pruning the Defense Budget

How can we balance the budget in the next five years? In a series of papers on budget choices, Brookings analysts examine options for reducing domestic discretionary spending, pruning the defense budget, raising revenues, and investing additional resources in children. An overall deficit reduction plan uses the ideas developed in this series to balance the budget in the next five years. All five papers in this series, and more information about the Budgeting for National Priorities project, can be found at

This paper prunes superfluous expenditures from the defense budget by identifying cost-saving measures that trim defense spending without sacrificing essential capabilities. These measures include the elimination of programs no longer relevant to the current threat landscape, the termination of weapons programs with limited technical feasibility, the restructuring of overambitious acquisition strategies, and the curtailment of strategically provocative weapon systems.

This paper also contains recommendations for limiting the wasteful practice of earmarking and for constraining cost growth. Relative to a baseline of current administration plans estimated by the Congressional Budget Office, the proposed expenditure reductions approach $35 billion per year. Only through thoughtful reprioritization of our finite fiscal resources will the U.S. government be able to improve its ability to secure the nation while retaining the financial flexibility to address unforeseen threats in the future.