11:55 AM EST, January 22, 2013
Endless chatter about the "fiscal cliff" has avoided serious consideration of military spending, a major cause of our difficulties. Defense appropriations are $525 billion for 2013 — 57 percent of the discretionary budget, more than those of all other departments and agencies combined. The U.S. military has twice the budget as the seven next nations combined. We could have an effective military at a far lower cost. Why are expenditures so high? Too many bases abroad, three prolonged and ill-conceived wars, unneeded weapon systems and nuclear armaments. This staggering waste largely reflects defense corporations' clout rather than military necessity. President Eisenhower warned against such power and bloat more than 50 years ago. The Defense budget should therefore be reduced and the savings put to better use for our commonwealth.
An illustration: taxpayers in Baltimore paid $690 million in taxes that went to the Department of Defense in FY2012. According to the National Priorities Project, this is twice the amount necessary to provide all the city's children under 18 with low-income healthcare. Similar trade offs could be made on any program beneficial to the citizenry. Virtually all such investments would create more jobs per dollar than could the Pentagon.
Rather than acting as the world's policeman, we should share global burdens through diplomacy. This posture would help reduce military appropriations significantly, enabling serious investment in education, health, job creation, rebuilding infrastructure, ameliorating poverty and reversing climate change. The present approach is bankrupting us, siphoning resources away from the public investments that sustain a civilization. Clearly, we need more balanced priorities to heal and rejuvenate our nation.