Obey's Afghanistan: At Long Last, It's Guns vs. Butter

One of the many destructive legacies of the Reagan Era was the
effective Washington consensus that wars and other military spending
exist on their own fiscal planet. Reagan got a Dixiecrat Congress to
double military spending at a time when the U.S. was not at war
(unless you were a poor person in Central America.) Meanwhile, Reagan
got the Dixiecrat Congress to cut domestic spending - we just couldn't
afford those costly social programs. Reagan pretended the two things
were totally unrelated, and the Dixiecrat Congress went along.

Ever since, the Democratic leadership and the big Democratic
constituency groups have largely collaborated in maintaining the
destructive fiction that we can shovel tax dollars to war and to
corporate welfare called "defense spending" without having any impact
on our ability to provide quality education, health care, effective
enforcement of environmental, civil rights, and worker safety laws,
and other basic services to our citizens that are taken for granted by
the citizens of every other industrialized country.

But maybe - maybe - that destructive connivance is coming to an end.

This week, House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey [D-WI] told
White House that he was going to sit on the Administration's
request for $33 billion more for pointless killing in Afghanistan
until the White House acted on House Democratic demands to unlock
federal money to aid the states in averting a wave of layoffs of
teachers and other public employees.

Obey didn't just link the two issues rhetorically; he linked them with
the threat of effective action.

At last, at long last.

But why is David Obey standing alone?

Perhaps, behind the scenes, the big Democratic constituency groups are
pulling for Obey.

But you wouldn't know it from any public manifestation. Why? This
should be a "teachable moment," an opportunity to mobilize the
majority of America's working families to push to redirect resources
from futile wars of empire and the corporate welfare of the "base
military budget" to human needs at home and abroad. Where is the
public mobilization of the Democratic constituency groups?

If we could shorten the Afghanistan war by a month, that would free up
the $10 billion that Obey is asking for domestic spending. Rep. Jim
McGovern's [D-MA] bill requiring a timetable for military redeployment
from Afghanistan currently has 94 co-sponsors in the House (act
.) If McGovern's bill became law, it would surely save the
taxpayers at least $10 billion. Why aren't the big Democratic
constituency groups aggressively backing the McGovern bill, demanding
that it be attached to the war supplemental?

This isn't just a question of missing an opportunity. There is a
freight train coming called "deficit reduction." If the big Democratic
constituency groups continue to sit on their hands on the issue of
military spending, then we can predict what the cargo of that freight
train is likely to be: cut Social Security benefits, cut Medicare
benefits, raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare,
cut domestic spending for enforcing environmental regulations and
civil rights and worker safety.

Ending the war in Afghanistan with a timetable for withdrawal would
likely save hundreds of billions of dollars. That's money that could
be used to prevent cuts from jobs and services at home.

And we can cut the "base military budget" - the money we are
purportedly spending to prepare for wars in the future, whether those
wars have any measurable probability of occurring or not - without
having any impact on our security.

The Sustainable
Defense Task Force
- initiated by Rep. Barney Frank [D-MA],
Walter Jones [R-NC], Rep. Ron Paul [R-TX], and Sen. Ron Wyden [D-OR] -
has modestly proposed a trillion dollars in cuts to the military
budget over ten years, targeting long-derided weapons systems like
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and the
V-22 Osprey. As Joshua Green notes
in the Boston Globe
, even Dick Cheney says the V-22 is "a
As the current annual military expenditure of the U.S. is roughly $660
billion, this would roughly amount to a 15% cut. Note that the U.S. is
currently spending about 4.3% of its GDP on the military, more than
twice what China spends as a percentage of its economy (2%.) If we cut
our military spending 15%, we'd still be spending far more as a
percentage of our economy (3.7%) than China, and far more than Britain
(2.5%) and France (2.3%). And in absolute terms, we'd still be
spending more than the next ten countries combined - most of whom are
our allies. Such a cut would free $100 billion a year for deficit
reduction and protecting domestic spending from cuts.

The president's Deficit Reduction Commission will recommend a package
of cuts to Congress in December for an up-or-down vote. Will the
Deficit Reduction Commission recommend real cuts to military spending?

On June 26, the deficit reduction freight train may be coming to your
town. The well-financed America
is hosting a "national town hall" discussion in twenty
cities on June 26 about ways to cut the deficit, promising that they
will push the result into the Washington deficit-cutting decision. Check
to see if the freight train is
coming to your town. If it is, why not go
and see if you can stow away some
military spending cuts - like ending the war and cutting the V22 - on
board the train?

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