By Nan Grogan Orrock
It’s time for our leaders to roll up their sleeves and achieve solutions to the serious financial decisions facing the nation.
Congress knew for more than a year that automatic and substantial budget cuts and tax increases would take effect Jan. 1, the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but they stalled and squabbled until the last minute and then delayed real decisions for another two months.
Members of Congress need to hear from us that we expect them to make a balanced deal to preserve programs that strengthen our nation while making sensible budget cuts to programs that are wasteful or unnecessary.
As state legislators, we battled to maintain critical investments in our states as revenue plunged with the start of the Great Recession. We provide many services to our communities in partnership with the federal government, so the possibility of further deep cuts to these programs is of great concern.
Education, health care, housing and transportation, along with an array of lesser known but equally important programs, are critically important to meet the needs of our citizens.
These programs are especially important right now as people still face significant struggles to recover from the Great Recession. Millions have lost their jobs or face the daily fear of layoffs, decreased hours and reduced wages.
It’s often said that we can’t afford to meet these needs and rebuild the economy, but really we can’t afford not to. It’s simply a question of government setting spending priorities that serve the greater good versus a few, but powerful, special interests.
Our leaders must recognize the need for investments that promote jobs and build the economy, even as we cut back on spending. Unlike most areas of federal spending, the Pentagon budget has grown unchecked for the past decade. But it’s not clear that these dollars are an investment we need for the 21st century.
America maintains a large and expensive nuclear arsenal from the Cold War era. Reshaping Pentagon spending, which eats up more than half of the discretionary spending that Congress allocates annually, will be crucial to any deal on the federal budget.
For the cost of just one new nuclear submarine, we could provide body armor and bomb-resistant Humvees to all our troops overseas, house and treat every homeless U.S. veteran and still have $2.2 billion left over to pay down debt. Our troops and security should come before pork-barrel programs.
Our national security priorities must include avoiding drawn-out expensive wars that have massive costs and lasting negative effects, both here at home and in the nations where wars are waged.
We are still stuck in Afghanistan, America’s longest war. While President Obama has moved up the timetable for withdrawal, we need an exit strategy that focuses on a political solution there, with particular concern for the welfare of women and children.
Responsibly reshaping Pentagon spending would free up money for much-needed investments in America. Programs that keep us safe — such as border security, disaster relief and air traffic control — and programs that invest in our long-term economic stability, such as education, all face cuts in the coming year.
Necessary funding to state and local communities is also on the chopping block. We must urge our national leaders to find a balanced approach that does not exempt Pentagon spending at the expense of crucial domestic programs.
We are at a critical crossroads in deciding how we as a nation want to spend our money and build our economy. Do we want to invest in education and health care? Improve and rebuild our aging infrastructure, such as roads, sewer systems and bridges? Help ensure safe communities and safe borders?
Or do we want to continue pouring money into wasteful military programs that the nation does not need? Will we reshape the Pentagon budget to address 21st century threats or continue to waste money on Cold War-era weapons systems?
After several years of financial suffering and setbacks, the American people are relying on Congress to find a balanced approach to put us back on the path to prosperity.
Our vote on Nov. 6 expressed a belief that Americans, working together, can craft solutions and rebuild our national economy. The votes have been counted. Let’s get to work.
Nan Grogan Orrock is a state senator in Georgia and president of the Women Legislators’ Lobby, a program of Women’s Action for New Directions.