Federal Budgets Are Moral Documents

“… Budgets are moral documents,” states Congresswoman Barbara Lee, but “they don’t lend themselves to a moral reading.” She adds that increases in military spending are made at the expense of federal investment in affordable housing, home care, childcare and education; yet, no budget documentation acknowledges this trade-off.

In federal fiscal year 2011, which begins October 1, the Department of Defense (DoD) budget will top $700 billion, continuing the growth in defense spending over the last decade. The 2011 DoD budget increase alone is more than the entire budget of the US Environmental Protection Agency and that of the Departments of Labor and Interior. In other words, militarized national security trumps a clean environment, protection of natural resources and nonmilitary job creation – even with the conjunction of accelerating climate change, the massive Gulf oil spill and the Great Recession. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich calls this perversion of priorities in which the Pentagon and Congress subsidize defense industries jobs in lieu of renewable energy, light rail and public works jobs programs, insane.

Moreover, the defense budget is ironclad and untouchable, while federal spending on survival issues pits one vital domestic security program against another. On Tuesday August 12, 2010, President Obama signed a $26 billion emergency bill to help local and state governments make Medicaid payments and reduce layoffs of teachers and public employees. The bill had been whittled down from $50 billion; and nearly half of the $26 billion emergency funds was poached from the food stamp program. This at a time when participation in the food stamp program has increased to one in every seven Americans (or approximately 41 million people) due to the Great Recession, and when a new and more realistic poverty measure will increase the number of people who are recognized as poor, especially among older Americans.

In mid-September, the Census Bureau reported that the percent of people in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, including nearly four in ten single mothers and 15.4 million children. Experts aver the actual rate is higher and has continued to climb in 2010. While we decline and decay from within, 60 years of persistent and costly American militarism have us garrisoning the world and forecasting war without end. Whose version of security governs our society?

“Women and the US Budget” (2005), for which Congresswoman Lee wrote the Introduction, offers a lucid overview of the federal budget and budget process, with unique focus on the impact of the budget on women. Here are five compelling points from “Women and the US Budget” which address defense spending:

*The pieces of the federal budget pie that fund education, energy, environment, social services, housing and new job creation, taken together, receive less funding than the military/defense budget.

*Over the past decade, domestic program budgets have grown at a lower rate each year, while the military budget continues to grow at a higher rate.

*The majority of military spending is “corporate welfare,” funding high profit defense contractors who are mainly white males.

*Conversion of military jobs to non-defense sectors, such as clean energy, healthcare and education, would result in a larger number of jobs overall.

*A key survey of women’s priorities for federal spending found that women ranked healthcare, retirement security, job opportunities, good schools and housing above homeland security spending.

A valuable companion to this primer is the National Priorities Project (NPP), a web site database, which offers up-to-date information on government spending on military defense overall and on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq specifically. The data is broken down by state, Congressional district, county, city and town so that we can see how many of our local tax dollars support the wars and defense industry and what alternative social spending programs the same money could buy. Here is a snapshot of my own county’s taxes that fund current wars and the critically needed social programs and services those same taxes could support, using data culled from the web site:

According to the National Priorities Project, taxes paid by Franklin County, Massachusetts, residents since 2001 for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, namely $279.5 million, could have funded 13,000 people to receive low-income health care for one year, 7,800 university scholarships for students for one year and renewable electricity from wind power for 83,000 households for one year.

There is also a growing movement, Bring Our War $$ Home, which uses the National Priorities Project data to make the case for ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and redirecting defense spending to genuine domestic security: local social, health and economic programs, including green technology and veterans’ health services programs.
Together, these web-based sources and community-based initiatives provide timely data and strategies for local media and advocacy groups to inform and galvanize citizens about the unethical trade-off in social spending that our government continues to make unabated, with our taxes, at a high moral price.