By H. Patricia Hynes
What do our income taxes pay for?
Our federal income taxes pay for mandatory federal budget programs, including Social Security and Medicare and interest on federal debt. They also pay for discretionary budget programs, among them education, housing, energy, environment, transportation, food and agriculture and defense.
“The budget is a profoundly moral document,” stated a former adviser to President William Clinton. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be.”
Let’s look, then, at where the federal government proposes to spend its treasure (our taxes) in fiscal year 2016.
At a time when there are no challenges to U.S. military supremacy, 70 percent of our country’s proposed trillion-dollar discretionary budget goes to national defense (Pentagon, Homeland Security, Intelligence and Nuclear Weapons).
Five percent goes to housing and community development; 6 percent, to education; and 2 percent, to transportation, whose infrastructure has been consistently graded D-plus by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The proposed budget for the State Department, responsible for diplomacy and resolution to international conflict (such as the win without war negotiations with Iran over curbing their nuclear weapons’ capacity), is less than 7 percent of the entire defense budget.
The Pentagon has more than 70 times the budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — charged with environmental health and regulating greenhouse gases to slow climate change, a profound threat to our country and the world.
Why are nearly 50 million Americans — most being women and children — living in poverty while we have spent $1 million per soldier per year in the failed and futile war in Afghanistan? The trillions of dollars poured into the reckless Iraq and Afghanistan wars “might as well have been burned,” observed one defense analyst. And yet, in its 21st-century long-term plans, the Department of Defense prepares for fighting battles anywhere and everywhere it deems necessary, on all continents except Antarctica, despite the growing consensus that our war on terrorism has destabilized countries and resulted in greater numbers of terrorists.
While we lead the world in global military spending and global weapons sales, the U.S ranks 34th of 35 developed countries on the well-being of children. Compared to all countries, we rank 35th in life expectancy, 34th in infant mortality, 17th in education and 37th in health care.
Why are our cities going bankrupt — Central Falls, R.I.; Stockton Calif.; and Detroit, Mich., with more coming — while we give military aid and assistance to countries that don’t need it (Israel); countries that abuse human rights (Bahrain); and countries whose armies use child soldiers (Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Yemen, Chad, South Sudan)?
Some 90 years ago, Brig. Gen. Smedley D. Butler published a small book, “War Is a Racket.” As Butler bluntly put it, war is first and foremost about making the world safe for war profits. More than 21,000 new American millionaires and billionaires emerged from the human ashes of World War I, while the federal government was mired in post-war debt — a debt paid for by the treasure of working people’s taxes.
Almost 60 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower presciently warned: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired …(is) a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed …”
At the height of the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King Jr. deepened Eisenhower’s warning: “A nation that spends more money on military defenses than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
We must — as the U.S. mayors’ conference and the majority of U.S. citizens from all political persuasions have called for — re-order our priorities and bring the war dollars home into our communities for health, education, living wage jobs, re-building infrastructure and environmental protection. Simply put — downsize the global military mission and re-build a healthy civilian economy.
As for jobs lost in downsizing the military, a study by the Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts Amherst finds that $1 billion spent on clean energy, health care and education compared to the same money spent on defense creates a larger number of jobs with mid- to high-range salaries and benefits.
Genuine existential threats to our national security do exist. Among them are the extreme financial gap between rich and poor, the gap in education between rich and poor, the hemorrhaging of jobs that pay a living wage and benefits, the specter of climate change — all of which are felt most deeply by the shrinking middle class, working class and poor. We urgently need a national discussion in thousands of local forums with our politicians — Democrat and Republican — who have systemically stymied all serious attempts to reduce the nation’s defense budget.
Budgets are profound moral documents. Our national treasure is being spent on entitlement programs for corporate defense contractors and the Pentagon while we fail our citizens in “social uplift.” Our government is in heart failure.