By Nan Grogan Orrock
With the campaigns over, our leaders must roll up their sleeves and get to work on the serious financial decisions facing the nation. Congress has known for more than a year that automatic budget cuts and tax increases loom in January, but they’ve left all the work to be done at the last minute. They 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 revenues 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 down economy. 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 spending priorities that serve the greater good versus a handful of 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 other areas of spending, the Pentagon budget has grown unchecked for the past decade. But it is not clear that these dollars are the investment we need for the 21st century. Reshaping Pentagon spending, which currently eats up more than half of the discretionary spending that Congress allocates annually, will be crucial to any deal on the federal budget.
America maintains a large and expensive nuclear arsenal from the Cold War era. 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 a reduction in drawn-out expensive wars with massive price tags and lasting negative effects felt here at home and in the nations where wars are waged. We are still stuck in Afghanistan – America’s longest war. We need an exit strategy that focuses on a political solution in Afghanistan, with particular concern for the welfare of women and children.
Responsibly reshaping Pentagon spending would free up money for much-needed investments here at home. Programs that keep us safe, like border security, disaster relief, and air traffic control, and programs that are investments in our long-term economic stability, like education, all face cuts in the coming year. Necessary funding to state and local communities is also on the chopping block. This November and December, we must urge our leaders to find a balanced approach to the so-called “fiscal fiasco” 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? Roads and bridges? Safe communities and safe borders? Or do we want to continue pouring money into wasteful programs that the Pentagon doesn’t want or need? Will we reshape the Pentagon budget to address 21st century threats, or continue to waste money on Cold War-era weapons?
The good people of Georgia and all fifty states are relying on Congress to find a balanced approach to put us back on the path to prosperity. Our vote on November 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.
Orrock is a state Senator in Georgia and President of the Women Legislators’ Lobby – a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).
Please note: A version of this op-ed previously appeared in The Hill.