Our Turn: We’ve got the money to avoid falling over the fiscal cliff
Great news: Despite reports that the cupboard has gone bare and we simply lack the money to ensure a sound education, good jobs, a robust infrastructure and a solid safety net for this generation and those to come, it turns out the money has been right here all along.
Hidden behind that big jar marked Pentagon and the supersized box of corporate tax breaks, we have all the resources we need to thrive as a nation e_SEnD if we all pay our fair share and make sound choices that bring us real security in our homes and communities.
For years the idea has been cultivated that federal spending on everything but the military has been out of control, and we are coming down to our last crumbs of federal resources. Some of those pushing this narrative have insisted we must slash all but the military budget if we are to avoid dire collapse in our economic system.
Most recently, a number of groups have been pushing for a so-called “grand bargain” that would trade some concessions on taxes for fundamental changes that would cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and other programs that fund community needs while exempting the Pentagon’s bloated budget from the conversation. There’s something fishy in this narrative.
Like a hard sell from a used car dealership, the numbers on this high pressure sales job just don’t add up. Don’t be fooled: The consequences of such a “grand bargain” are far worse than those of sequestration.
To be clear, there would be no “fiscal cliff” if some in Congress had not sought to force cuts to non-military discretionary programs through a series of manufactured crises over the past two years. Rather than pursuing sensible, reality-based budgeting by allowing misguided tax cuts for the wealthiest to expire and reversing the massive increases in military spending that largely fueled the federal debt, those calling for cuts have focused on the parts of the budget that have grown least.
It makes no sense for Congress to spend more than half of the dollars it has discretion to allocate on a military budget that has already doubled since 1998 – without even counting the additional $1.38 trillion allocated to wage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – even as millions of families struggle to find work, and to feed and house their families.
Pentagon contractors have raised an anguished outcry over potential impacts of the “sequester” on the military budget – yet these “dangerous” cuts of roughly 10 percent over 9 years would only return military spending levels to the dark ages of 2007, a time when the U.S. was waging two wars and military spending levels far outpaced Cold War levels. And what about all those jobs at risk? Many of the military contractors most vocal about the likelihood of massive job cuts if military budgets are cut have actually cut more jobs in recent boom years than in lean ones. A battery of studies have shown that military spending is a particularly poor job creator, and most other areas of federal spending create much higher levels of employment.
Our levels of military spending far exceed rational bounds. The United States accounts for roughly half – more than $700 billion – of all global military spending. Many of the other big spenders are our allies. We’re like a family hoarding a massive personal arsenal of weapons completely extraneous to any real threats we face – and when hard times come, we decide to spend less on food, medicine, heat, and home repairs so we can fill our neglected pantry with rocket launchers and grenades.
Instead, let’s make a choice to thrive once more by moving our money to health care, clean energy or education, where any spending will support twice as many jobs and more fundamental security for our families and communities. One of the most effective ways to spend public dollars is on services to those who need them, like meals for children in poverty, cancer screenings and unemployment stipends. Both our physical infrastructure – roads, bridges, buses, trains – and our communal infrastructure – hospitals, libraries, schools – deserve more funding, not just to keep them safe and functioning, but also to connect workers to jobs and neighbors to neighbors.
It’s also time to act on the other side of the federal budget equation – raising revenues from those who have benefited the most from unfairness in our tax code. If all corporations just paid the 35 percent federal tax they are supposed to, we’d have an extra $219 billion in the public treasury annually to cover the cost of fixing roads, hiring teachers and helping families heat their homes.
We’re not broke. We remain a nation of abundance and opportunity if we make smart budgeting decisions. Real security for this nation comes in the form of jobs, schools, housing and health care – not outdated weapons and extras the Pentagon hasn’t even asked for. The Obama administration and Congress must get to work filling our pantry with the things we truly need to ensure a better future for all.
(Arnie Alpert is the New Hampshire program coordinator and Robin Aura Kanegis is the director of the Office of Public Policy for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace and social justice organization.)