April 25, 2012 | LXXII, No. 4

Scrutinize the Pentagon budget

As budget chair for the House of Representatives, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is “The Man.” President Obama presented his budget, and Ryan has announced his. Dueling budgets. Under the Ryan budget, even if you’re part of the infamous 1%, your local services will be cut. That road expansion to bring in more trucks for new businesses? Gone. Federal funds to help expand the local airport for business or tourism – nope. Shoring up collapsing bridges and ruined roads? Wait your turn. And for the 99%, it’s slash and burn. Local job training to help those out of work, help to reduce the increased class sizes, and more rental assistance for newly unemployed? Gone.

The United States is in debt. But the question is: Will spending cuts to support our communities help bring back our nation’s financial strength? As more and more people fall into poverty, become homeless, drop out of school and face chronic illnesses without treatment, the fundamental system of a working society crumbles. The result, simply put, is less ability to contribute to the economic system, which includes paying taxes as a member of that society. Those lost taxes will make it even more difficult to make up our deficit, or bring down our debt.

Here’s an idea: Rather than focus on wounding domestic programs that help people and families, communities and businesses, let’s cut where elected officials have maneuvering room: the Pentagon budget. Each year, Congress appropriates more than half of discretionary spending to the Department of Defense, wars and nuclear weapons spending. Even without deficit reduction pressure, this overspending takes dollars away from needed domestic priorities that strengthen our economy and ensure that America can compete in the world marketplace. This isn’t making our nation more secure. As chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dempsey put it, “It makes no sense at all for us as a nation to have an extraordinarily capable military instrument of power if we are economically disadvantaged around the world.”

Also, many tax dollars going into this enormous Pentagon budget are wasted on last century’s security strategy. Over the next decade, we are slated to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a nuclear weapons arsenal built for another era. Expanding our production of nuclear weapons and their expensive delivery systems is at odds with our efforts to constrain nuclear weapons development elsewhere in the world. These weapons are simply irrelevant to support our troops on the battlefield or to address 21st century threats.

We also seem to be addicted to consuming deficit money on wars. Nearly nine years in Iraq have been joined by more than a decade in Afghanistan, while saber-rattling over Iran heats up. Whether measured merely in direct financial cost, or in the broader and more profound cost of lives lost and damaged, we cannot afford to be a nation perpetually at war.

Fiscal conservatives like Rep. Ryan must agree that the Pentagon, which swallows up such a large percentage of our budget, must be at least as carefully scrutinized for waste as other government programs. Right now the Pentagon does not even pass an audit to show how it spends our tax dollars.

Some supporters of the Pentagon and their contractors tout money to the Pentagon as a jobs’ program. War should never be viewed as such a program. Sensible national security jobs make sense, and no member of Congress can ignore the effect of policy decisions on jobs. Nonetheless, economists have shown that federal investments in non-military sectors -- like education, health care and clean energy - -create more jobs than military spending. Let’s invest in those jobs.

Rep. Ryan, unchecked spending on the Pentagon at the expense of domestic programs that support people struggling in this economy negatively affects your own constituents, and the entire country. Let’s put this nation on reasonable footing when it comes to national security and fiscal responsibility. Let’s have sensible cuts to the Pentagon budget.

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Shaer is the Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), and co-chair of Win Without War.

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A version of this article previously appeared in The Hill.

© American Forum. 4/12

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