When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel unveiled the Pentagon’s budget request for next year, he said it is time to take the United States off wartime footing for the first time in a decade. I applaud Hagel’s statement, but find his words at odds with the billions of dollars that the Pentagon wastes each year on programs that do not benefit our national security.
I believe the American people need to look at the details of the budget to make sure we really do make smarter choices in Pentagon spending — allowing us to fully fund programs that create jobs and invest in our communities, while we support our men and women in the military and provide for a strong, sustainable defense that meets 21st century security needs.
Over half of the budget
Year after year Pentagon spending eats up over half of the budget that Congress annually appropriates. What’s left gets divided up between a myriad of programs and investments essential to our communities like clean water programs, food safety inspections, and mother and child nutrition programs. It is exciting to think of the different ways our country could be improved if we were not overfunding the Pentagon while imposing austerity on other investments. Here in Minnesota, the Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project (MNASAP) works to shift federal priorities by asking groups and individuals to endorse their resolution, which calls for a cut in Pentagon spending and a redirection of funds to meet local needs.
Programs that help those living in poverty are needed to ensure a bright future for those in the Twin Cities. The Minneapolis Foundation notes that 33 percent of Minneapolis children were living in poverty in 2009-11, with numbers most likely similar for St. Paul. With a budget of over $1 trillion to spend on military and domestic programs, I am hopeful for a plan that might allow us to fund programs that help to lift people out of poverty, while, as Hagel noted, still having the money to remain the most capable military in the world.
Pentagon leaders’ warnings of the effects of budget cuts seem strange when you consider just how big the budget really is, and what the Pentagon is choosing to spend it on. This year, requested Pentagon spending, including nuclear weapons spending, is over half a trillion dollars. And that doesn’t include war costs, which totaled $85 billion last year.
Look at the details
Beyond the overall amount, we must pay attention to what specific programs the Pentagon budget is funding. Surprisingly, the F-35 fighter jet will still be fully funded. This plane is 10 years behind schedule and embarrassingly over budget. The F-35 is billed as a stealth fighter, yet has difficulty performing at night or in bad weather, is plagued with a faulty oxygen supply system, and has experienced fuselage cracks. According to the National Priorities Project, Minnesota taxpayers will pay $150.05 million for F-35s in 2014; that money could have paid for more than 2,000 police patrol officers for one year.
Congress should evaluate the Pentagon’s budget request closely for wasteful programs like the F-35 and other weapons programs that do not address our 21st-century security needs, such as the oversized U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks global spending, the United States accounted for 39 percent of global military spending in 2012. Meanwhile Iran, North Korea, and Syria combined for less than 1 percent. The reason for this imbalance is clear: Some policymakers believe that more spending equals more security.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Wasteful spending puts our national security at risk. By spending billions on planes that don’t fly and bombs we’ll never use, we have less to spend on programs that actually contribute to our security. Eliminating wasteful Pentagon spending will allow us to invest in the programs our military needs to keep America safe, and free up resources for important domestic programs that improve the lives of Americans here in Minnesota and across the country.
It is almost certain that special-interest groups and elements of Congress will attack any reduction in Pentagon funding. Hagel — along with other military leaders — knows, however, that we must support fiscal responsibility at the Pentagon to sustainably address 21st-century threats. People who truly care about this country must continue to be attentive and make sure we properly fund domestic needs in this budget season and in years to come.
Candice Quinn holds a doctorate in history and is the communications director for MN ASAP, the Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project, a 501c3 nonprofit.
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