by Christine Parrish
There is voter suppression going on and it isn’t mainly at the polls. It’s out among us, in offices and cafes, at dinner parties and social events. It’s growing out of the prevailing belief that the U.S. Congress is bought by big money and that the rest of us with our little voices don’t count.
“That is absolutely not true,” said Barney Frank, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 32 years as a congressman from Massachusetts.
“They will listen to the big money, but only if you are silent,” Frank told an audience of almost 500 people at the Maine Affordable Housing Conference held in Portland on Wednesday, October 30.
Named after Senators Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is designed to prevent another “too big to fail” housing and financial crisis that sent shock waves though the global economy in 2008 and from which the U.S. is still trying to recover.
In Portland, Frank was emphatic that home ownership is not as important as affordable housing, arguing that affordable housing is foundational for success in schooling, healthier children, more financial stability and building stronger community bonds.
The subsidies that allowed for low-income earners to buy homes that they could not really afford, with the mistaken idea that a home will increase in value as an asset, should largely be redirected to rental subsidies so that people can have a secure place to live, he said.
“And how do we pay for that?” said Frank. “We do it by cutting military spending while leaving domestic spending intact.”
Frank said military spending is out of control, with the U.S. currently in the position as the world’s policemen, a role that has cost a fortune and lives in Iraq and Afghanistan without building anything better to replace what came before, and without securing American safety or national interest in the process.
It is time, said Frank, to close our military bases in Europe, where there is no military threat. Since we have three different nuclear arsenals aimed at the now defunct Soviet Union, it is time to get rid of at least one of them and redirect those funds back into domestic spending. As the Iraq and Afghan wars wind down, the U.S. Army is scouting for new missions in the world to justify their continued funding, said Frank. We don’t need more military in the world burning billions while waiting for a war, he said, when our military might and spending already far exceeds the rest of the world’s.
Frank said our military adventures in the Middle East provide a recent lesson that has not been fully appreciated: the military is designed for conflict. They break things apart. Their role is not to put them back together again. And when they try, as they have in Iraq and Afghanistan, they aren’t very good at it because it isn’t what they’re meant to do. Billions of dollars have been spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the United States is not safer as a result, said Frank.
While our military plays a vitally important role and should be funded, he said, it does not need the level of funding currently alloted, which is about 20 percent of the entire federal budget, even before veterans’ benefits are included.
Military cuts are on the table for this year, but the Senate, the House and the president have not come close to cutting military spending to the degree that Americans say they prefer.
The public wants military spending slashed, according to independent surveys.
A 2012 Stimson Center survey showed the public asks for modest cuts, if any, when given a general question about defense spending.
But when given specific background information, arguments for and against cutting specific programs, and given the authority to make specific military cuts, the public would cut the budget for nuclear weapons by 27 percent, slash ground forces by $36.2 billion, and cut the Afghanistan War fund by 40 percent. And that’s just for starters.
Infrastructure, education, adequate housing, and other domestic concerns are being cut to the detriment of the country, said Frank.
It doesn’t have to be this way, said Frank, and legislators need to hear it directly from people.
Phone calls that are specific to one issue and make an informed statement make the biggest impact, he said, and people should not be afraid to call any senator or congressman from any state to express their views.
“Call them,” said Frank. “Don’t call the ones you know who already support affordable housing. Call the ones who need to hear your voice.”