By Rebecca Griffin, political director, Peace Action West
What glaring oversight was a top driving factor in Congress’s failure to avert $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts? As the partisan posturing drags on after Congress’s failure to strike a deal by the March 1 deadline, a bipartisan lapse comes into focus: refusal to face the fact that we need to reshape the Pentagon budget. Because Congress dropped the ball and failed to address out of control Pentagon spending, critical government programs will now be slashed across the board.
Everyone from former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to weapons contractors cried wolf about the devastating impact of reductions in Pentagon spending. But when done the right way, smart Pentagon cuts won’t harm our security. Instead they make the country stronger by contributing to our economic health.
When you put the bluster aside, a very different picture of the Pentagon budget emerges. As the Center for Strategic and International Studies points out, cuts on the level of sequestration would amount to the smallest post-war reduction in defense spending since before the Korean War. We can make smart, strategic reductions on the level of sequestration and still be spending more than the yearly Cold War average.
But apparently some people still think we’re locked in a global standoff with the Soviet Union. Remembering what century we’re in provides opportunities for major reductions, such as looking at our outmoded weapons systems.
Take the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a plane designed to fight a “peer competitor” like the Soviet Union. It’s the most expensive weapons system the US has ever built, with the expected $1.5 trillion long-term operating and support costs outstripping the annual GDP of Spain. It’s been over budget and behind schedule for years and its performance has been plagued by serious mechanical failures. In fact, the Pentagon has just grounded the entire fleet after a crack was discovered in the engines. Even defense spending booster John McCain calls the program “a train wreck.”
What price might Americans pay to keep these flying sacks of money in the air? Under the automatic spending cuts, research on diseases that affect millions of people will be slashed. The risk of foodborne illness could increase as the FDA conducts 2,100 fewer food inspections. More than 100,000 homeless people, including veterans, would lose access to shelter. Seventy thousand children would lose their places in Head Start. The list goes on.
The effects of these cuts in our communities aren’t just going to be felt today. The impacts of decreased access to education and the ability to feed your family will reverberate far into the future. If we don’t want a future where our children starve while weapons contractor CEOs rake in multimillion-dollar salaries, our representatives in Congress need to act.
The plans are already there. Think tanks from across the political spectrum have offered detailed plans for making smart, strategic reductions to Pentagon spending. Members of Congress from Republican Armed Services Committee member Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) to the Congressional Progressive Caucus have offered legislation that takes a significant bite out of Pentagon waste.
After more than a decade of conflict, we’ve ended one war and are winding down another. The people protecting the U.S. aren’t kept up at night by visions of a major ground invasion but by small, mobile non-state actors. We need to reshape our Pentagon budget to fit a 21st century strategy and revitalize the long-term economic wellbeing of our nation.
There’s still time to fix this mess before major damage is done. Congress faces another critical deadline soon, as government funding will run out at the end of March. Our representatives and senators must speak out forcefully for reforming the Pentagon budget, then roll up their sleeves and work together to make it happen.
Griffin is the political director of Peace Action West.