By John D. Hutson and Woody Hanstein
As veterans, we are grateful that U.S. senators from New Hampshire and Maine are working together, across party lines, to protect the jobs of hardworking women and men in the defense sector. The statement recently issued by the senators demonstrates a keen understanding of how important the Portsmouth/Kittery shipyard is to the local economy.
Gradually, people are beginning to grapple with the notion that automatic spending cuts, known inside the Beltway as the “sequester,” are now a reality. We don’t yet know how deeply these cuts will affect the things Americans depend on most — but experts tell us we could soon feel the cuts when it comes to air travel, food inspection, federal dollars paying a portion of our local teachers’ salaries and important programs like Head Start and nutrition assistance for women and young children.
But what if there is a better way?
Let’s review. For every tax dollar we give to the federal government, nearly 30 cents goes to the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s budget this year is $650 billion. It has increased 13 years in a row, and it’s 48 percent larger than it was a decade ago.
Now let us consider New Hampshire’s and Maine’s share of the Pentagon budget. According to a new report issued by the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan organization that helps Americans understand and influence how their dollars are spent, New Hampshire taxpayers this year will spend $2.3 billion on the Pentagon and Mainers will spend $1.6 billion — that’s their share of tax dollars to keep the Pentagon afloat.
Is there a better use for that money? Certainly $4 billion would go a long way toward providing low-income children with health care, or with covering more kids under Head Start, or putting more law enforcement officers on the streets and more teachers in our classrooms and more students through college.
This is not an alphabet soup of choices — the amount of tax dollars sent by Maine and New Hampshire to Washington, D.C., to pay for Pentagon spending would cover all of the above, with money left over.
As veterans, we understand the importance of a strong military. We wouldn’t support cuts to Pentagon spending if we felt that those cuts would result in inferior equipment or less training for those who serve.
Military experts tell us that our armed forces will be stronger if we force ourselves to think strategically. Some military brass may view the sequester as a crisis — but it’s also an opportunity for Congress to seriously assess the Pentagon’s strategic choices and budgetary needs based on a careful exploration of our priorities.
And what are our priorities? Priority one might be to make greater investments in special operations forces for counter terrorism, instead of occupying entire countries. Priority two might be putting less emphasis on huge fleets of expensive aircraft like the F-35 (the most expensive weapons system in our history) and more emphasis on ensuring every soldier in the field is provided with the most advanced protective equipment we can provide. Priority three might be greater investment in cyber capabilities to protect cyberspace and maintain informational superiority.
Recent polls show that both Democrats and Republicans think Pentagon spending should be responsibly reined in, and both Democrats and Republicans prefer cuts in this area to cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security.
So what are we waiting for? And what must be overcome?
Today, 53 years after outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warned of a “permanent armaments industry of vast proportions,” we must overcome the power of military contractor CEOs and their lobbyists.
We must recognize that a new set of priorities commands us to invest in domestic concerns such as jobs, education and health care, and nation-building at home trumps nation-building abroad.
We must recognize that strength and respect abroad is built, and based, on economic strength at home. And we cannot thrive if obsolete and unnecessary weapons systems are consuming our precious resources.
We must recognize that it is not the size of government that is at issue but who government works for — CEOs and lobbyists, or working families and the middle class. As veterans, we served America. We believe that it is in the best interest of our national security, including the security of our economy and our people, that our members of Congress return to Washington D.C., and take a leadership role in cutting Pentagon waste and shifting the spending to American priorities.
Retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson is former dean and president at the University of New Hampshire School of Law in Concord. Hutson served in the U.S. Navy from 1973 to 2000.
Former Lt. Cmdr. Woody Hanstein is a practicing attorney in Farmington, Maine. Hanstein is a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Navy Reserve.