In the midst of this summer’s heat wave, we still enjoy a measure of outdoor time, but certainly relish the air-conditioned relief indoors. As the toll of heat-related deaths continues to rise, how many of us know that Congress is proposing budget cuts to the federal assistance program for air conditioning and heating bills for hard-hit families? Yes, budget decisions in Washington come home to roost right here close to home. And the impact can be devastating.
What budget priorities will do the most to meet the needs of our people and guarantee American’s freedom and strength for years to come? It’s time to take a closer look at Pentagon spending, which includes funding for wars and nuclear weapons. This budget has grown unchecked since 1998 at a cost of trillions of dollars to taxpayers. And while Congress is proposing devastating, draconian cuts to essential programs, such as assisting families struggling with out-sized utility bills, the Pentagon gets yet another hand-out from the budget writers.
Our nation’s greatness and future security are not aided by a bloated nuclear arsenal, unnecessary weapons systems and endless war. Our future will be best served with investments in education, jobs, healthcare, science and technology and a clean environment. To make those investments, we must cut excessive Pentagon spending.
As president of the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL) and a Georgia state senator I work with legislators across the country. In nearly every state they are battling budget shortfalls year after year. After 9-11, state budgets have taken on massive new costs for homeland security measures. National Guard and other returning veterans need state and local services. The women state legislators in our national WiLL network understand that increases in Pentagon spending mean their strapped state budgets get further shortchanged. With the impacts of this great recession and the end of stimulus funding, states cannot afford the devastating cuts that would come with the Ryan budget or the planned sequestration cuts to non-defense spending.
The Ryan budget increases Pentagon spending for the coming year by $8 billion more than what was agreed to last August in the Budget Control Act. That difference would be paid for by slashing even further every other funding priority. The result, among many others, would be suffering families who no longer can receive assistance to keep their air conditioning bills paid. A small consequence, you might think, unless you and your loved ones are smothering in an apartment or sun-baked house with no where to turn for help.
The House approach also exempts the Pentagon from the looming automatic sequestration cuts by taking more from all of the other programs and investments. Congress will have to slash from K-12 and higher education, national parks and clean water programs, medical and scientific research, clean energy — you name it. Everything would be cut while the Pentagon trough gets filled without a murmur.
We all want a common defense that works. We agree that veterans and their families deserve the best in recognition of their sacrifice. They also deserve to come home to a strong, vibrant economy with plenty of job opportunities.
What we don’t want are redundant and unnecessary weapons that don’t meet today’s security needs, mismanaged projects that go far over budget and defense industry lobbyists lining their pockets at our expense. Former Defense Secretary Gates says, “We can’t hold ourselves exempt from the belt-tightening. Neither can we allow ourselves to contribute to the very debt that puts our long-term security at risk.”
What we do want are jobs. Some claim that cutting excessive Pentagon spending means losing good jobs. On the contrary, economic studies have shown that federal investments in other sectors, including education, healthcare and clean energy, create more jobs than federal dollars spent in the military sector. These are the sustainable jobs that we need for our future. Let’s choose teachers, doctors, nurses, first responders, home weatherization and wind turbines over building bombs that we don’t need and can’t afford.
It’s time to hold a magnifying glass to Pentagon spending. Other domestic spending is equally important to the future of our nation. Jobs, education, healthcare, a clean environment, safe roads and bridges and mass transit, are all a part of our national security. These are essential components of fulfilling our nation’s obligation to secure a bright future for America.
Many domestic, religious and nonprofit groups agree and are speaking up. Even fiscally responsible conservatives are mobilizing. If we are ever to rid ourselves of enormous cost overruns, exorbitant contractor fees, no-bid contracts and massive, unnecessary weapons systems, we must insist that the Pentagon be held accountable for its spending. We could start by insisting that the Pentagon conduct an audit.
Congress must responsibly reduce Pentagon spending. How can we tolerate the wealthiest nation in the world having people die from lack of air conditioning while maintaining a military budget that outspends the rest of the world many times over? Let’s send the message to our members of Congress that squandering our tax dollars on wasteful Pentagon spending is no longer acceptable. It’s time to turn up the heat on Congress and demand accountability and budget priorities that put our people first.
Nan Grogan Orrock is a state senator in Georgia and president of the Women Legislators’ Lobby — a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).