Defense Spending the Top Priority, Critics Fear

Defense Spending the Top Priority, Critics Fear

As the United States retains its place as the world’s largest defense spender for another year, and the Cost of War counter inches toward the $1 trillion mark, community activists bemoan the priorities of the Obama administration.

“On the front lines in public schools and places like Chicago where I teach, we are seeing devastating budget cuts,” said Jesse Sharkey, a ninth and twelfth grade social studies teacher at Senn High School in Chicago.

“It’s very apparent when you think about the spending priorities in our country that there seems to always be enough money for military adventures overseas but not enough for our classrooms at home.”

On May 30, 2010, at 10:06am, the National Priorities Project /Cost of War counter – designed to count the total money spent for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – is expected reach the $1 trillion mark. Meanwhile, a report recently released by the US-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation (CACN) finds that the United States remains the global leaders in defense spending.

To date, $747.3 billion has been appropriated for the U.S. war in Iraq and $299 billion for Afghanistan. Congress is set to add an estimated $37 billion to the current $136.8 billion total spending for the current fiscal year through a pending supplement.

At the same time, the U.S. budget deficit is $1.27 trillion and accruing interest. According to a graph in the Washington Post about President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 2011, $895 billion is expected to be allocated to defense spending and $730 billion to social security.

Meanwhile, the fate of over 100,000 teachers nationwide hangs on a $23 billion aid measure for the nation’s public schools being pushed through by the Obama administration and Democratic leaders, reported Democracy Now!.

In Chicago, says Sharkey, “Programs like elementary school language, kindergarten and busing are all on the chopping block,” and there is talk of laying off 3,000 public school teachers.

In an analysis of how far the $1 trillion spent on defense funding could reach in other areas, the National Priorities Project found a long list of different underfunded services that the money would significantly bolster. For example, $1 trillion would provide 440.7 million children with health care for one year, equip 1 billion homes with renewable electricity for one year and pay the salaries of 16.4 million elementary school teachers for one year.

A spending priority for Sharkey, whose high school shares a building with the Rickover Naval Academy, would be vocational programs in public schools. “One of the moves that we’ve seen in the past ten years is the underfunding of the vocational programs,” said Sharkey, “an all-out elimination.” Changes such as these push many students into the military, he says, rather than teaching them valuable vocational skills for alternate careers.

The Department of Defense’s fiscal year 2009 “Active Duty Military Personnel Strengths by Regional Area and by Country” report says the U.S. has 1,417,747 troops in more than 138 countries around the world, including the U.S, with 285,773 of them abroad.

According to the CACN report, the total U.S. defense budget has increased approximately 67 percent from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2011, growing from $432 billion to $720 billion. These figures are adjusted for inflation. In 2008, the U.S.-approved defense budget authority – which included “the Pentagon base budget, Department of Energy-administered nuclear weapons activities and supplemental appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan” – was $696.3 billion.

“Examples of wasteful spending span every branch of the Department of Defense,” said Laicie Olson, a defense spending analyst at the US-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “At a time of growing concern over the federal deficit, it is increasingly important that all parts of the budget be scrutinized. Defense is no exception.”

As of the 2007 fiscal year, according to figures collected by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States spends 4.1 percent of its Gross National Product on military defense spending.

It also spends 44 percent of the global total of defense expenditure, according to the CANC report.

As the CACN report notes, the Congressional Budget Office has regularly warned that discretionary spending, including defense, will come under increased pressure in the coming years.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has repeatedly called for the elimination of wasteful and ineffective defense systems. In a speech aimed at overhauling the Pentagon’s budget and restructuring its bureaucracy, Gates said, “It is not a great mystery what needs to change. What it takes is the political will and willingness, as Eisenhower possessed, to make hard choices – choices that will displease powerful people both inside the Pentagon and out.”