President Obama and the Congress have taken 66% of discretionary spending in the federal budget off the table -- the Security Budget -- while proposing a freeze to the rest of the budget and deep cuts to some programs that provide necessities for the American people. His budget crystalizes a choice that U.S. presidents have been making since President Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex -- investment in the military vs. investment in the civilian economy.
The bloated and sacrosanct security budget -- the military, domestic security and intelligence budgets --all saw rapid growth under President Bush when the DoD doubled its budget. Under President Obama the trend has continued with record military, intelligence and domestic security budgets.
And, while the so-called recovery has only been a recovery for Wall Street and big business, the administration and congress are focused more on the deficit than on re-starting the economy for the rest of us. But there is more talk of cutting Social Security and Medicare than cutting the security budget. In fact, these two items are called entitlements because they are a contract with working Americans who pay for them in every paycheck. For this reason they should not even be considered part of the deficit. Payroll taxes fund these two programs that are essential for older Americans in their retirement years. Both face budget challenges but can be fixed, indeed Social Security has more than $2.5 trillion in Treasury Notes in reserve.
President Obama has proposed the largest DoD budget since World War II, $553 billion (not including war funding and nuclear weapons funding in the Department of Energy). Much attention has been shined on Secretary of Defense Gates' proposal to "cut" $78 billion in the Pentagon budget. Those "cuts" take place over five years with reductions taking place after the 2012 election in 2014 and 2015. And, the "cuts" do not include the cost of wars. The Afghanistan war alone could eat up projected "savings" and if the CIA's war in Pakistan escalates that will be an even bigger budget item. Further, we have not seen what the continuing U.S. military footprint in Iraq will cost. These projected cuts are more image than reality.
How does military spending impact Americans? President Reagan's former assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb describes the military budget as "an annual tax of more than $7,000 on every household in the country." While increasing the security budget, Obama and the Democrats have proposed widespread cuts to critical programs from a 50% cut in low-income heating assistance to nearly a 30% cut to the clean drinking water fund. They have also proposed a 25% cut ($1.3 billion) to the community development block grants used to fund local community development including affordable housing, anti-poverty programs, and infrastructure development. These are essential services needed for Americans health, safety and economic security. Of course, Republican cuts in the House budget are even more extreme but Obama set the table for them by making the debate about deficits and both parties will not touch the security budget. Military analyst, William Hartung, writes "These cuts will be painful, and they will be felt in every middle- and lower-income household in America."
Cities and states are cutting essential services to balance their budgets. U.S. taxpayers will spend $737 billion for Pentagon spending for FY2011 including war funding). To get a sense of what these means, for the same amount of money tax payers could provide funding for 11.3 million elementary school teachers for one year or 93.5 million scholarships for university students for one year or restart the economy by providing 166.9 million households with renewable electricity - solar photovoltaic for one year. Instead all these programs face cutbacks, while military spending grows.
To get a sense of the absurdity of protecting all military spending, the federal government spends $500 million each year for military marching bands . In comparison it spends $430 million a year on public broadcasting. More than half of all Americans use PBS each year , 170 million people, but PBS faces cutbacks while military bands are protected from budget cuts.
The greater damage will be in the failure to restart the economy. Economists like Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich , are convincingly urging more spending. Big business is sitting on $2 trillion in cash stifling job creation and a real economic recovery. There are no signs of inflation because the recovery -- if you can even it call it a recovery -- is non-existent for working Americans and the unemployed/underemployed whose consumer purchases are needed to drive the economy. Obama risks a 1937 mistake -- cutting spending too soon and causing another collapse.
Cutting $1 trillion from the federal budget is the goal of the Obama administration deficit plan. All of these cuts could come from military spending and still leave the U.S. militarily dominant. In fact, since the administration has projected an increase in spending of $6.5 trillion from 2011 to 2020, even a trillion would be a slowing of growth more than a real cut. Lawrence Korb lays out a five point plan to reduce military spending by $1 trillion without jeopardizing national security and thereby protecting U.S. economic security.
He is not alone, the Sustainable Defense Task Force provides specific cuts without harming U.S. national security including:
The $238 billion Joint Strike Fighter program: Cancelling the program and relying instead on upgraded versions of current aircraft would save almost $50 billion over ten years.
The MV-22 Osprey: Replacing this dangerous, overpriced, and underperforming aircraft with cheaper alternatives would save over $10 billion over ten years.
Reducing the number of U.S. troops in Europe and Asia to 100,000 from current levels of 150,000 would save $80 billion over a decade.
Reforming Pentagon health care systems so that retirees pay modest, reasonable premiums could save $60 billion over a decade.
Scaling back missile defense and space weapons programs could save over $50 billion over a decade.
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