Push To Cut Defense Waste
February 27, 2009 - 11:33am ET
President Obama’s budget is progressive and visionary, with new commitments on health, energy and education. But it misses one big opportunity—trimming the bloated defense budget.
In his recent address to Congress, Obama said his proposed budget will “eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq and reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use.” Although refreshing for a president to say, his budget does not reflect this change.
The budget would provide the Department of Defense a fiscal year 2010 baseline budget of $533.7 billion. Add the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the President’s total request comes to nearly $664 billion. Including total war costs is a welcome move towards transparency; however, the Office of Management and Budget request still provides a 4 percent increase in the Defense Department’s baseline funding. Looking forward, Obama’s budget spares any significant cuts to defense, sustaining current levels of spending that represent nearly half of all discretionary spending through 2013.
To put these figures into perspective, defense spending is at its highest level since World War II. The U.S. military spends more than the next 45 highest-spending countries combined and accounts for 48 percent of the world's total military spending.
An analysis by Miriam Pemberton and Suzanne Smith of the Institute for Policy Studies says that the Obama administration’s defense budget proposal "does show signs of a modest course correction" but not a "sweeping shift" in priorities—at least not yet.
If President Barack Obama gets the budget he requested today, we'd be spending 13 times the money engaging the rest of the world through the military as by any other means. And under his budget request, the Department of Homeland Security would receive a slight increase of $2.6 billion over the FY 2009 appropriation. We would be spending $16 on military force for every dollar we spend on homeland security.
Overall we would be spending seven times as much on military force as on international affairs and homeland security combined.
Now is the opportunity for Obama to utilize the “scalpel” he promised. Awash in funds, the DoD fails nearly every audit, lacking transparency. Just recently the GAO reported the Pentagon was unable to account for over one-third of all weapons sent to Afghanistan. On top of this, the Pentagon faces $300 billion in cost overruns for 72 weapons systems acquisitions.
MORE ON DEFENSE SPENDING
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, is leading the charge against Pentagon waste and inefficiency. On Tuesday I attended Rep. Frank’s press conference, in which he proposed to cut the defense budget by 25 percent and warned, "If we do not get military spending under control, we will not be able to respond to important domestic needs."
In association with the Institute for Policy Studies (which has a report on proposed military program cuts) and Congressional Progressive Caucus colleagues Keith Ellison, D-Minn.; Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., Frank proposed numerous cuts to unnecessary programs that can yield over $160 billion in savings annually. Specifically, the plan highlighted the withdrawal from Iraq and elimination of outdated weaponry such as the Cold War era F-22 Raptor and Osprey, while reducing funding for unproven projects like the Space and European missile defense systems.
Frank stressed though that he cannot push for defense cuts alone, grassroots pressure on Congress and the White House is key. "Left entirely on our own, the Congress will not do the cuts in the military budget that ought to be there,” he said.
Certainly, defense spending has been a taboo subject among politicians deep in the pockets of contractors or wrapped in the rhetoric of “supporting the troops and protecting America.”
All the more reason for progressives to mobilize and reshape this debate, stand up against the military industrial complex and hold Obama to his promises. We need to demonstrate (loudly) how cuts to defense waste—not social programs—are key to strengthening both our national and economic security, while reducing the deficit. This push will be particularly relevant through 2009 as the White House and Congress seek ways to trim the deficit even more.
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Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future