As the $787 billion stimulus bill snaked its way through the House and the Senate and finally landed under the pen of President Obama, my predominant thought has been holy cow -- that's a lot of money!
Sen. John Thune was even kind enough to explain to CSPAN viewers last week how a stack of hundred dollar bills totaling $787 billion, wrapped side by side, would encircle the Earth nearly 39 times. As unsettling as this new financial commitment may be, it is at least an attempt to help more Americans achieve some semblance of economic security.
The stimulus package was aggressively attacked by fiscal conservatives who have been outspoken about the "pet projects" in the bill, and the wasteful programs that will weigh down future generations with massive debt. Point taken.
But I'd like to ask the fiscal conservatives: What about your support, year after year, of a monstrously bloated Pentagon budget?
The Iraq war and subsequent occupation, a "pet project" of the Bush administration and consistently financed by most members of Congress, will very likely cost the American taxpayer more than $3 trillion dollars by 2010, when interest on the debt and much-needed veterans benefits are factored in to the costs of the war. Even former President Bush, as reported in the Wall Street Journal in December 2008, acknowledges that increased military spending during his tenure in the White House has contributed to the federal budget crisis.
And just how much has the increase been? In the past eight years, U.S. military spending has nearly doubled; when nuclear weapons spending and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are factored in, the U.S. taxpayer will be footing a Pentagon bill of an estimated $711 billion in 2009 -- approximately $2,300 for every person living in the United States. $711 billion is roughly equivalent to what the rest of the world spends combined on military spending. There is no indication that President Obama plans to cut the military budget any time soon; in fact, he may be requesting some increase.
So what about wasteful Pentagon spending? The moral implications of spending half of every discretionary U.S. tax dollar on "defense" aside, it would seem prudent for the fiscally minded to scour the Pentagon budget to clean up and dispose of wasteful and unnecessary programs. Rep. Barney Frank, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has spoken out repeatedly about the possibility of shearing 25 percent from the military budget, and has outlined some programs cuts to get there. Where is the support of fiscal conservatives for this proposal?
For those who believe our defense budget makes us safer: An ever-increasing military budget does little but provide security to Congressional incumbents and military contractors. According to the Center for American Progress and its recently published Unified Security Budget, 87 percent of security resources in the 2009 federal budget are being spent on the military. Only 8 percent are dedicated to homeland security, and a paltry 5 percent to non-military engagement. As the old saying goes, "When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."
National security cannot and should not be defined in terms of our capacity to wage war abroad. National security is when the most vulnerable among us have access to adequate education, health care and housing; when we address the very real and growing threat of climate change; and when those Americans who want to work can support their families with a living wage. It will be achieved when we invest abroad in programs that address the root causes of terrorism including poverty, access to food and clean water, and education. It will be achieved when we make nuclear nonproliferation a priority, and lead the world in helping secure loose nukes and fissile materials, and begin serious negotiation of the abolition of nuclear weapons.
The stimulus' $787 billion is a great deal of money. However skeptical I am about the prospects of the package succeeding in any measurable way, I'd rather have my tax dollars go to "pet projects" that may staunch the bloodletting of American jobs than wasteful Pentagon programs whose primary purpose is to find effective and creative ways to kill human beings.