By Lena Taylor
Here in Wisconsin, we believe it is our moral obligation to craft budgets that improve education for our children, maintain our beautiful lakes and waterways, keep our communities safe and meet the needs of families struggling to find and keep jobs. Programs such as BadgerCare, the AIDS Resource Center and the Milwaukee Child Welfare Partnership Council have helped thousands of people lead healthier, happier lives.
Like every state in the country, we rely on a partnership with the federal government to sustain many of these essential programs and activities, and still we have to make tough choices. Nobody gets everything they want, and we have many much-needed investments to make as our economy slowly recovers from the recession.
Unfortunately when we look at Washington, we just see partisan bickering, fiscal showdowns, missed deadlines and the inability to set clear budget priorities. Wisconsin needs Congress to get its act together – and fast.
Across the country, devastating automatic cuts to critical programs are scheduled to take effect at midnight Friday. The White House estimates that this year alone, Wisconsin could lose nearly $28 million of federal funding. Wisconsin schools would lose $8.5 million for public education, putting both teachers’ jobs and the quality of education at risk.
The cuts would affect the amount of money going toward important environmental programs protecting clear air and water. In addition to fewer federal dollars going toward law enforcement, job search assistance and public health programs just this year, the cuts would affect the future prospects of government services, medical research and economic growth.
Instead of these meat-cleaver cuts, we need a strategic approach that will sustain our needs for security, safety and a healthy future. Each day, we face new challenges both here at home and globally. But just as we have developed cleaner energy, more effective medicines and faster computers, we need to adapt and update our military.
Since 2001, Pentagon spending has more than doubled – and that does not even include war spending in Afghanistan and Iraq. We spend more taxpayer dollars on the Pentagon today than we did during either the Vietnam War or the Cold War. We spend more than the next 13 countries combined, and most of those are allies.
Pentagon contractors spend tens of millions of dollars every year lobbying Congress and millions more to influence elections. Most Americans, even state legislators, have trouble competing with that kind of influence. And the result is that, routinely, tanks, planes and ships that the military says it doesn’t even need get funded.
For example, we spend billions of dollars on Cold War-era nuclear weapons even though military leaders such as Gen. Colin Powell and Gen. James Cartwright, the retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have dismissed this excessive spending as outdated and unnecessary. We simply can’t afford this pork-barrel politics anymore.
Let me make it crystal clear that I support our military and their families and our veterans who have sacrificed so much. I also believe that a strong defense will safeguard our national security. I rely on the federal government to invest in these priorities, but a little fiscal discipline is clearly needed when it comes to the Pentagon.
Congress must reconsider its defense budget in order to both streamline spending and address challenges of the modern world. Only then can Washington start to set budget priorities and make strategic choices that will help us all build a stronger, more secure America.
As a state legislator, my first concern is serving the Milwaukee area and the people of Wisconsin. The automatic cuts that Congress has done little to prevent are going to affect and hurt real programs, real jobs and real people across the Badger state.
Instead of playing political games and pointing fingers across the aisle, I’d like to see Congress take action to create more sustainable jobs for teachers, health care providers and workers to build our green energy technologies of the 21st century.
State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) represents the 4th Senate District and is an active member of the Women Legislator’s Lobby, a program of Women’s Action for New Directions.