Monday, February 15, 2016

237.3 - Why has the left stopped talking about cutting the military budget?

Why has the left stopped talking about cutting the military budget?

I've been wondering about something for a time, and I'm glad to see some others are starting to raise the question: When did we on the left stop talking about the military budget? When did we stop saying the DOD budget is too big - which it is? When did we stop calling for cuts in a bloated military establishment that both drives and enables a militaristic foreign policy? When did we stop saying things like "fund human needs, not wars?"

This is how bad it's gotten, this is how far off the table the issue of military spending has fallen: In 2013 and again in 2014, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in the alternative budget that it prepares each year, called for Pentagon spending to be cut back to 2006 levels, projecting that would save nearly $1 trillion over 10 years - that is, an average of $100 billion per year. Last year, in 2015, it proposed a 1% cut in military spending and you had to search to find a reference to that.

But military spending is the elephant in the room.

The U.S. Treasury divides all federal spending into three groups: mandatory spending, discretionary spending, and interest on debt, with the first two making up over 90% of the total budget. Mandatory spending is just that; it is spending that is set down in law. For an obvious example, Social Security spending is mandatory. Medicare spending is mandatory. Unless the law itself is changed, the government can't just say "oh, we're going to spend this much on Social Security this year and we'll see how far that goes." Mandatory spending accounts for well over half of the federal budget.

Discretionary spending comprises less than one-third of the total federal budget - but is the portion of the budget that decisions are made about each year. It is the part that you argue about each year. If you want to expand housing programs, if you want to push renewable energy, if you want to expand education benefits, if you want to do a whole range of things, this is where you argue it.

And here's the thing: Military spending makes up 54% of discretionary spending. No other item - not agriculture, transportation, unemployment, energy and the environment, veterans' benefits, education, none of it - gets more than 6%.

But for some reason we have stopped talking about cutting the military. Is it because we really think that President Hopey-Changey (been a while since I called him that) really deserves his "aspirational" Nobel Peace Prize? Is it because we have been struck with political cowardice, afraid to even hint at a criticism of Obama for fear of giving succor to the right-wing wackos? Is it because we have been stampeded by the drumbeat of ISIS ISIS ISIS until we are politically terrified of looking "weak" - or even worse, stampeded into embracing the world of perpetual war, of bombing runs and drone strikes becoming so normal that they don't even get reported on any more?

I don't know. But I do know we have to break out of this spell.

Because on February 9, the Amazing Mr. O proposed a budget for the Department of Defense (which was, more appropriately, called the War Department until after World War 2) of $582.7 billion while asking for, by way of comparison, less than 1/8 as much for education. It would increase funding for fighting ISIS ISIS ISIS by 50% and quadruple funds for US military presence in Europe.

And that, by the way, is not all of our military spending. Veterans' affairs, the military-related activities of the State Department, the nuclear weapons program (which is under the Department of Energy), - by the way, still have nearly 5,000 nukes - and more can easily add an additional nearly $200 billion to that total.

Despite that, and despite the fact that the proposed budget is in line with last year's congressional budget deal, GOPpers are screeching that it's too low and we need to spend even more on killing and preparing to kill people even as we should, they say, spend less and less on keeping people alive.

If we do not break out of this self-imposed silence, there will be no counter-narrative and a nearly-$600 billion military budget - or, more properly, a nearly-$800 billion military budget - will become a floor, not a ceiling - while for example Amtrak continues to die the death of a thousand cuts and someone proposing something like an expansion of community health centers will be told "there is no money - unless you steal it from some other domestic program," and anyone suggesting anything like a national jobs program for infrastructure repair will be laughed out of Congress.

We have got to break that spell. We have got to get back to demanding real cuts - not smaller increases - real cuts in military spending.

Because as long as we can find money for Humvees but not for housing, the military budget is too big.
As long as we can afford hi-tech drones but not hi-speed trains, the military budget is too big.
As long as "more jets" outranks "more jobs," the military budget is too big.
As long as we splurge on F-35s while we skimp on Food Stamps, the military budget is too big.
As long as hostilities eat up more of our resources than hospitals, the military budget is too damn big. And must be cut.

Sources cited in links:

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