Susan Shaer: Money and values from Congress and the President – hard choices
Are you clued in to the current slashing and burning going on in Washington? The new Congress is trying to settle on a federal budget that should have been voted on last fall. President Obama unveiled his idea for the next budget on Monday. How do you think they are setting priorities? After all, our federal budget shows what we value, doesn’t it? What we care about as a country? So what does our president’s budget care about?
President Obama’s federal budget for our next fiscal year revealed that almost all of Secretary of Defense Gates’ recommended Pentagon “cuts” (really restructuring and a reduction in the rate of increase) will be consumed by increased war spending. The total Pentagon budget planned for 2012-2016 shows virtually no change between this year and last year’s projections.
This year, President Obama does face an incredibly steep challenge –growing deficits and debt. The fall election made it clear that fiscal conservatives, Tea Party candidates, and backers demand deep spending cuts to address this. Despite promises from President Obama that everything would be considered for cuts – this is not true for the Pentagon.
Worse, the new Republican-run Congress proposes that this year’s spending be cut back by $100 billion. To do this, they are proposing draconian cuts to everything except military spending.
Yes, we need a strong defense but also a reasonable one. Horrified hoards responded when they learned we sent troops to Iraq without proper body and vehicle protection. Ironically enough, we are currently spending about one hundred billion a year in Afghanistan – the same amount that Congress is proposing we find by cutting needed domestic programs. Critics still remind Congress that we are not protecting our ports or transportation systems here at home. These are not examples of a reasonable approach to defense.
Recent polls show that most Americans would juggle the budget deficit/debt problem differently than what President Obama proposes. Congress, however, does not ordinarily hear this message. They ignore their constituents. On the subject of the military industrial complex, members of Congress heartily agree with the military contractors instead of those individuals who vote for them. Recent analyses acknowledge that military contractors recognized immediately that when the Cold War was over their gravy train had ended. They needed a new strategy for survival and growth. So they developed one by making parts of weapons systems in every congressional district in the country.
There are prices to be paid at every level for this kind of thinking. Job training, science research, higher education, National Institutes of Health, heating aid for the poor, nutrition programs for children – the list goes on and on. These programs will help us to economic recovery. These programs are where we need to invest in order to have a hope of competing in the coming decades. The President’s plan would freeze many of these programs at last year’s spending levels, while the Pentagon is gobbling up way over half of the overall discretionary budget.
We need to stop mindless unchecked spending on bloated Pentagon programs that feed defense contractors while starving real economic and security needs. Let’s be winners with our American values. Do we choose weapons and war, or do we insist on real security, a growing economy and a healthy environment?
Susan Shaer is executive director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), a national activist organization working to redirect excessive military spending to unmet human and environmental needs.