May 30, 2009
On April 15, large, angry and somewhat wacky crowds of
Republican-backed and Fox News-supported "tea party" protesters joined
the usual groups of more sedate and earnest peace activists to
demonstrate against President Barack Obama's proposed 2010 budget
Whether they were mad about deficit spending and high taxes or
military spending, Obama's budget of $3.55 trillion is a lot of money.
Much of those trillions are oriented toward trying to fix the
problems of almost a decade of corporations-can-do-no-wrong profligacy.
There is a lot to applaud in the budget, like increased spending on
healthcare, education and developing sustainable energy. But there are
still huge military outlays. Obama's first Department of Defense budget
requests $534 billion in spending, continuing a decade-long trend of
uninterrupted increases. (Indeed, under Bush, the Pentagon's baseline
budget rose by 82 percent between FY 2002 and FY 2009, adjusted for
inflation.) On April 6, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the
detailed budget with a small bit of fanfare, declaring that his budget
is intended to "reshape the priorities of America's defense
establishment," and that his recommendations will "profoundly reform
how this department does business."
Devil's in the details
Despite those buzzy action words, Gates' announcement was pretty cut
and dry--a white-haired man reading from a sheaf of paper and
responding to questions. For the most part, the cuts he proposed were
not dramatic in that they were "budget neutral." Savings from deciding
not to order any more F-22 Raptors goes towards production of the F-35
Joint Strike Fighter. There is (maybe) one fewer DDG-1000 Zumwalt
destroyer, but no change in funding for the Virginia Class attack
There were some actual cuts to big ticket items. Star Wars missile
defense programs were cut by $1.4 billion, retaining more than $9
billion a year in spending on what is left of Reagan's fantastic
promise to render nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete." The Army's
Future Combat System (FCS)--the troubled system of systems designed to
link together armed soldiers, robotic sensors and combat vehicles with
a sophisticated communications network--will be cut by $770 million, as
Gates axes the vehicle component. Voicing his frustration about cost
over-runs and setbacks, Gates did raise the specter of canning the
whole $87 billion program if significant restructuring was not
Looking carefully at the Pentagon budget, Miriam Pemberton, a
military budget expert with the Institute for Policy Studies, estimates
that the proposals shave between $8.6 and $10.3 billion from weapons
procurement funds. If those cuts can be sustained, and if whole
programs like FCS are canceled, the savings could total $98 billion
eventually. That would actually edge us towards the sweeping rhetoric
that accompanied the announcement.
Congress up in arms
But between here and there is a hornet's nest of Congressional
parochialism, with Democrats and Republicans lining up behind their
friendly neighborhood military contractor and predicting fundamental
compromises to our national security as a result of these cuts. Sen.
James Inhofe (R-Okla.), called Gates' budget the "disarming of
America." The axed vehicle in the FCS was supposed to be partially
built in Oklahoma. Inhofe received $121,700 in defense industry
campaign contributions in the 2007-2008 election cycle.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) accuses Gates of being "willing to
sacrifice the lives of American military men and women for the sake of
domestic programs favored by President Obama." Parts for the F-22
Raptor are built in Georgia. Chambliss received $140,300 in campaign
contributions from the defense industry in the 2008 cycle.
Six senators sent Secretary Gates a letter protesting the proposed
missile defense cuts and predicting they "could undermine our emerging
missile defense capabilities to protect the United States against a
growing threat." Together, the senators received more than $855,000
from the defense industry in the 2008 cycle.
All of these protesting members of Congress cite the jobs supported
by weapons programs. But according to the University of Massachusetts'
Political Economy Research Institute, an investment of $1 billion in
defense creates 8,555 jobs and $564.5 million wages and benefits. That
same amount, invested in education, creates 17,687 jobs and $1.3
billion in wages and benefits. A Lockheed Martin machinist can't become
a social studies teacher overnight, but transitioning people from
military production to more useful sectors of the economy is not rocket
science, and the benefits are lasting.
GWOT becomes 'Overseas Contingency Operations'
Not only is this budget larger than the Bush administration's last
budget; it is just part of the picture. It does not include the full
costs of ongoing wars. At the end of March the Washington Post
reported that the Defense Department's office of security review sent a
memo to Pentagon employees saying, "this administration prefers to
avoid using the term 'Long War' or 'Global War on Terror' [GWOT.]
Please use 'Overseas Contingency Operation.' " Members of the Obama
administration quickly fell in line, with Office of Management and
Budget (OMB) Director Peter Orszag winning the prize for using it most
often. But whatever one calls it, it is expensive.
As of October last year, total costs for the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan totaled $864 billion. Now it is President Obama's turn to
add to that number. In Obama's first and--he insists in the OMB
release--last "planned war supplemental" before these "costs are
accounted for in the budget" the White House is requesting $83.4
billion for ongoing military, diplomatic and intelligence operations.
Of this, $75.5 billion is for costs related to military operations and
intelligence activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Added into this mix
are funds for four more F-22 Raptors (which extends the life of the
weapons program that Secretary Gates just axed to save money). The
rest--$7.1 billion--is allocated for international affairs and
stabilization activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe,
including economic assistance to Georgia, counter-narcotics programs in
Mexico, security assistance in Lebanon and many other budget lines.
Once passed, Obama's war supplemental will bring the total cost of
"overseas contingency operations" since President Bush's October 7,
2001, invasion of Afghanistan to $947 billion.
While it is a positive move to bring war funding into the budget
routine, this does not mean the United States will stop spending
billions a month any time soon. Military operations in
Afghanistan--where Obama is surging U.S. forces--have so far cost more
than $170 billion, an average of more than $20 billion per year.
Spending will rise significantly as the United States sends more troops
and attends more to the training of Afghan security forces. Military
and economic aid to Pakistan is slated to sharply increase and
additional civilian development aid to Afghanistan will be a crucial
part of the mix as well. These will be long-term efforts, not the work
of a year, or two years, or even five years.
Then there is Iraq, where Obama has pledged to responsibly end the
war. But, contrary to popular belief, savings generated by reductions
in U.S. forces in Iraq are unlikely to be significant, at least for the
next few years. The planned reductions are fairly gradual. Even after
the end of 2011 we may leave a residual force of 50,000 or more
military personnel, along with an expanded contingent to train and
equip the Iraqi armed forces.
In short, under Obama, Pentagon spending continues to be out of control.
Taxpayers yet unborn, generations of them, will be on the hook for
the nearly $3 trillion--the amount borrowed plus interest to finance
war operations over the last decade. Until now, most people barely
noticed the dollar cost because it was on the national credit card. But
whether they tossed tea or piled pennies or filled out forms in April,
the American people are beginning to notice that the bills are coming
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