BY DAVID ROSMAN
I have a question to help enhance my own political understanding.
As we approach the “fiscal cliff,” I understand most of the discussions as well as the pros and cons of the arguments. One position I do not understand is the seeming lack of the “less-government” movement to trim the military budget to control our national spending. Why is this issue off everyone’s radar?
Our military budget is larger ($711 billion) than the following nine highest military budgets combined ($579 billion). The U.S. military budget represents 4.1 percent of our GDP. The only country in the top 15 that exceeds that is Saudi Arabia at 10 percent of GDP. Israel only made it to number 17.
I am also fully aware that U.S. military spending represents about 15 percent of the federal budget.
Entitlements have also grown. The Congressional Budget Office reported in June, “major health care programs and Social Security (will) grow from more than 10 percent of GDP (in 2012) to almost 16 percent of GDP 25 years from now.” I concede that most of that increase is due to the Affordable Healthcare Act.
The budget office also states another major factor, that the “baby-boom generation portends a significant and sustained increase in the share of the population receiving benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and as well as long-term care services financed by Medicaid.”
This does not include other federally funded safety net programs such as the food stamp program, housing, Temporary Assistance of Needy Families(TANIF), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and as some conservatives wish to include, student loan programs. Yes, there are a lot more and that number is growing. Why?
I am not pointing fingers here, but our economy did take a major hit in 2008 and the momentum continued on the downward slide for almost two years. Yet the reality is that these safety-net programs also prevented the fiscal crisis from getting worse, saving many jobs and home ownerships.
The argument that the maintaining of military spending protects the jobs, direct and indirect, of millions of Americans is proper. However, the same argument can be said about Supplemental Security Income (SSI), federal health care and other “welfare” programs that are in the budgetary gun sights of the “pull yourself up by your boot strap” movements.
These same political movements reject the calamity that could have befallen our nation. The extensions of unemployment benefits alone kept a lot of people from filing for bankruptcy to pay basic bills.
Yet if one looks at the entire welfare system budget, it was just under $431 billion for 2012. Of the military spending, the Department of Defense’s budget alone is $708 billion — both increasing by one-third since 2008. I admit the military budget is reduced in 2013, but we will have one less war to pay for and it is immediately offset by the welfare increases.
I believe both can be cut to meet today’s budgetary and citizenry needs without digging new holes and without leaving people in the gutter. I think we can spend under 4 percent of GDP for military and less than 6 percent of GDP for public programs.
The scenarios of both budgets are out of date, relying on war instead of peace and growth instead of the natural pendulum swing of the economy.
We have to re-evaluate, revamp and revise the safety net programs to see if the money could be better spent, such as creating jobs through government spending on rebuilding and repairing our infrastructure. We must also re-evaluate our military budget to better protect our citizens through new technologies, not new bombs. (OK, the last sounded a bit too liberal, but would you expect different from me?)
Paraphrasing Rene Descartes, Congress has made “a habit of making ill-considered judgments” and has learned little from its errors. As a consequence, Congress does meet Einstein’s definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The military and welfare budgets are equal friends and foes in Congress’ avoidance of a “fiscal cliff.” Let’s treat them both as such. Put everything on the table.
Then, members of Congress really talk with each other and take down their fortresses of ideology.
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.