Ocasio-Cortez: We could pay for two-thirds of Medicare for All with that $21 trillion we spent on the Pentagon

Even some lefties on Twitter are giving her the side-eye for this. Imagine how wrong you’d have to be on the numbers for defense spending for liberals to say, “You’re exaggerating the problem.”

Note: She’s not suggesting that we’ve spent “merely” $21 trillion on defense. Clearly she’s suggesting that we’ve spent waaaaaay more than that, such that $21 trillion is just the share of the spending that can’t be accounted for. The entire federal budget this fiscal year was $4.4 trillion; our terrifying national debt currently stands at $21 trillion and change. I know progressives are trained to believe that defense gets 95+ percent of the federal budget (in reality it’s usually in the 15-20 percent range) but exactly how much does AOC think is being appropriated to the Pentagon?

The punchline is that she’s taken an interesting piece in the far-left Nation about systematic accounting chicanery at DOD and distorted it so wildly that the story now comes off as underwhelming when you read it to fact-check her. The point of the Nation piece isn’t that Defense has spent $21 trillion, it’s that it’s used accounting tricks to move the equivalent of $21 trillion around on paper. Why? Because an inflated accounting of spending this year all but guarantees that spending won’t be cut next year.

The Nation never claims that the Pentagon actually spent $21 trillion. To the contrary: “Skidmore … does not contend that all of this $21 trillion was secret or misused funding. And indeed, the plugs are found on both the positive and the negative sides of the ledger, thus potentially netting each other out.” The point of the story is that Defense is so opaque that even professionals can’t follow the money from one paper transaction to another. No doubt there is bona fide fraud going on in addition to the accounting sleight of hand, but enough fraud to pay for two-thirds of a $32 trillion program? Is she high?

As I say, liberals who support single-payer but know how to read and add are politely chiming in to set the record straight. Via Patterico:

I wonder if Ocasio-Cortez’s view of general federal spending is driven by the $32 trillion number for Medicare for All that’s constantly, and justifiably, being thrown in her face. That’s over 10 years, not one year, she’s always quick to remind her critics. “And surely,” a novice progressive politician might think, “if single-payer costs $32 trillion over 10 years, our damned bloated Defense budget that I’m constantly hearing about must cost at least $21 trillion, if not more.” She probably glanced at the figure in the Nation story and thought that it seemed perfectly plausible as a measure of actual defense spending. Maybe the happy outcome of this episode will be to drive home to her just how fantastically gigantic, even by Pentagon standards, $32 trillion over 10 years is.

In lieu of an exit question, go read Patterico for a second example of a major politician who can’t make up his mind about whether the Pentagon’s actual annual budget is fair (maybe even too small) or “Crazy!”