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A Question of Priorities

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Message Randolph Holhut
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Take a look inside President Bush's proposed $2.9 trillion federal budget for fiscal year 2008, and you'll see more of the same old thing - more money for war-making and tax cuts for the rich, less money for everybody else.

The president wants to spend $481 billion on defense, plus another $145 billion for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Put together, that's $628 billion for war - and that doesn't include the $19 billion the federal Department of Energy gets for nuclear weapons research.

According to William Hartung, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and an expert on military issues, this is the highest level of military spending since the end of World War II. It is more money than every other nation in the world combined spends on its military. It is more than the combined gross domestic products of all 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The proposed budget for just the Iraq war is larger than Russia's and China's military spending - combined.

As for those tax cuts, if you make more than $1 million a year, you're looking at an average tax cut of $162,000 a year by 2012. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, those in the top 1 percent of income earners would get 31 percent of the president's proposed tax cuts, while the bottom 40 percent would get just 4 percent.

So what's getting cut to pay for this?

- The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides help for poor families struggling to pay their heating bills, is being cut by $1.1 billion.

- The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which last year provided more than 6.4 million food packages for low-income seniors and families with young children, is being eliminated. Also, elderly housing programs will receive $172 million less.

- The Community Block Grant Program, which provides $1.6 billion of funding for emergency food assistance, affordable housing and community development programs, is being eliminated, and $1 billion is being cut from job training and employment services.

- Education programs will take a big hit as Head Start is being cut by $436 million, special education loses $669 million and the Child Care and Development Block Grant program loses $111 million.

- In health care spending, rural health programs will see an 87 percent budget cut and the National Institutes of Health will get a $310 million cut.

In short, about $13 billion in cuts to nonmilitary-related items are being proposed, while this nation plans to spend 58 cents of every dollar of federal discretionary spending on the military.

Even worse, little of this military money is being spent on equipment and weapons that U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan badly need. According to Hartung, it's going instead toward Cold War-era weapons systems such as the F-22 fighter ($4.6 billion), the CVN-21 aircraft carrier ($3.1 billion), the SSN-774 Virginia-class attack submarine ($2.7 billion), the Trident D-5 submarine-launched missile ($1.2 billion) and ballistic missile defense ($10.8 billion).

In the San Francisco Chronicle last week, Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, wrote that about $60 billion of the defense budget now devoted to unneeded and now-obsolete Cold War weaponry could be cut without effecting the military's ability to fight terrorists.

Cohen, now the head of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, said that the $60 billion in savings could be used for other things - from providing health insurance to the 9 million children who don't have it to rebuilding and modernizing public schools or expanding energy conservation programs. The funding for all the aforementioned social service, education and health care program slated for cuts could be restored.

As with so many things, what it will take is Congress having enough guts to cut non-essential defense spending and reallocate that money toward other pressing needs.

The problem is that defense spending is the ultimate example of corporate welfare. Virtually every congressional district in the country gets funding for defense-related programs. And virtually every member of Congress fights to get more of this money.

When the talk turns to saving domestic programs and members of Congress start criticizing the president's budget, two questions should be asked. Will you vote to repeal the president's tax cuts and which defense program in your district would you eliminate to save LIHEAP, Head Start or other domestic priorities?

This is not a question of guns or butter. It's question about who we are as a nation and whether we think it's more important to waste money on unproductive and unneeded military spending or to steer as much of that money as possible toward things that will make a difference in the lives of average Americans.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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