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Trump Defense Boost Would Mean Big Gains for Some States

Democrats likely to hold line for parity with nondefense programs

Brian Schatz, whose state of Hawaii is the No. 3 recipient of per-capita defense spending, says there must be parity in domestic spending to go with any boost to national security programs. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Brian Schatz, whose state of Hawaii is the No. 3 recipient of per-capita defense spending, says there must be parity in domestic spending to go with any boost to national security programs. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A request from the Trump administration for a double-digit increase in defense spending could be largely decided by lawmakers whose states are far from equal players when it comes to the benefits of a bigger military budget.

That’s long been the case, as geographic, historic and strategic differences across the country result in more of an economic boost in certain states. But the differences are even more starkly displayed in a new Pew Charitable Trusts analysis that shows the funding split across all 50 states and the District of Columbia on a per-capita basis.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the very tiny District of Columbia had an exceedingly high defense spending level, with $10,308 spent per person compared to a national average of just $1,759. The second-highest per-capita defense spending level was Virginia, home to the Pentagon as well as several military bases, with a $7,636 per capita level.

The lowest state per capita was Michigan, which spends just $656 per person on defense, with Illinois coming in just ahead at $667 and New York a bit over that at $679.

Big gains for defense-heavy states could increase pressure on some lawmakers as they wrangle over spending decisions. Multiple fiscal issues loom, including two fiscal years’ worth of budget and appropriations action slated for one calendar year.

The window of opportunity to debate fiscal 2017 spending is shrinking, and with government funding expiring on April 28, it’s highly possible an omnibus spending bill could emerge. Leaders could target lawmakers in defense-heavy states by rolling a defense bill in with other funding measures as they attempt to get spending legislation across the finish line.

Researchers with the Pew Charitable Trusts compiled data from multiple federal agencies including the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the website to calculate the per-capita defense spending level for each state and the District of Columbia.

The research group defined defense spending as:

  • DOD expenditures on retirement and non-retirement benefits (such as TriCare health care payments)
  • DOD salaries and wages
  • Obligations for DOD grants and contracts
  • Non-DOD agency purchases that end up in DOD products

Pew used fiscal 2014 spending figures for its analysis because data was quickly available for retirement, non-retirement and grant spending through a previous research project that compiled information on federal spending by state. State-by-state defense spending research is also produced by DOD’s Office of Economic Adjustment, with the most recent analysis published on fiscal 2015 spending.

Anne Stauffer, a director with the Pew Charitable Trusts and the author of the analysis, told CQ Roll Call that the Pew report differed from the DOD report because it incorporated a broader data set of spending instead of just DOD contracts, salaries, and wages.

Lawmakers are eyeing the upcoming arrival of the defense supplemental as a key moment for defense spending. When asked about the fate of the House-passed fiscal 2017 Defense appropriations bill, Sen. John McCain pointed to the incoming military supplemental as a potential starting point.

“The conventional wisdom was they were going to come over for a supplemental to start with. We’ll see,” McCain said.

Sens. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, both Democratic appropriators with states among the top 10 highest per-capita funding levels, told CQ Roll Call that increased nondefense funding must accompany defense increases.

“I’ll continue to advocate for resources for Hawaii, but the deal is the deal,” Schatz, whose state’s per-capita defense spending is No. 3 in the nation according to the Pew analysis, said when asked about the study.

“We’re still for parity and I think we’ve proven we’re not as troubled by those votes as they hope we will be,” Schatz said.

When asked about the Pew study, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat and a high-ranking appropriator, sees an explanation in history for the disparity.

“A lot of it is historic, where shipyards were located, where plane factories were built, particularly in the Second World War,” Reed said.

“But one of the things you’ll also find out is, there is a conscious effort by the manufacturers to spread work throughout the entire country. So the main production facility might be in a particular state but subcontractors are all over the country,” he added.

“So you find pretty much in large defense programs, that they have really a broad sort of impact throughout the country.”

Stauffer said the analysis gives greater context for how defense spending affects each state.

“I think the reason we did the study is that basically the federal defense budget is actually a state-by-state story and that’s what we wanted to make clear,” Stauffer said.

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