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Sequestration: Getting Our Priorities Straight

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Posted on Nov 20, 2013
U.S. Navy/MC3 Paul Kelly

By Sonali Kolhatkar

(Page 2)

Realizing that the jobs argument does not have as much political impact these days, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that the cuts are a threat to “military readiness,” even though the U.S. has wound down one war in Iraq and is readying itself to wind down another war in Afghanistan. Still, defense hawks like Republican Congressman Buck McKeon want to hold all military engagements hostage to the sequester. McKeon had claimed that in order for the U.S. to be involved militarily in Syria this fall, it could not tolerate any sequester cuts to the military. (For anti-war advocates, this argument is as good a reason as any to slash tens of billions of dollars of the military budget each year.)

But even cutting half a trillion dollars over a decade from the U.S. military will not strip it down to bare bones. In fact, adjusted for inflation, historic drawdowns after various major conflicts such as Vietnam and the Cold War were even more dramatic than what the current slew of cuts would result in.

Comerford argued that the military lobby “frankly should be worried” because “you and I, through our federal income and payroll taxes, pay 80 percent of the nation’s bills. We should get to say what is a wise expenditure.” To that end, she argued we should “allow our military to really reinvent itself and not be locked in these old god-forsaken Cold War paradigms that just simply cost a lot of money without doing a whole lot of good.”

Comerford went further, suggesting we change our spending priorities: “What our nation has had since the 1980s is a failure of imagination, a failure of our ability as a nation to invest in sectors other than defense and the Pentagon. In fact, if we simply pause for a moment and look at what else could be achieved should we turn those federal dollars someplace else, it’s staggering the kind of return on investment we might get.”

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In 2011, the U.S. “spent more on its military than the next 13 nations combined,” according to The Washington Post. Yet, on crucial programs like public education, the U.S. spends far less than most countries.

Even within the military, instead of decreasing expenses on drones, bombs and other machines of death and destruction, the budget cuts are being translated into reducing the number of troops by tens of thousands. Comerford argued that it was important to transition these troops into civilian life, saying, “We should all care about the women and men in the armed services and in the defense industry who are employed. And we should actually have a plan to transition the economy where these folks aren’t just tossed into unemployment. Because that would be a ridiculous piece of business causing less tax revenue and a continued protracted economic crisis.”

But if cuts to the military could actually be a good thing for the economy, what effect will the accompanying sequestration reductions have on the abundance of crucial nonmilitary programs in the discretionary budget?

Comerford couldn’t stress enough the devastation that could result over the years if sequestration goes through, saying, “Just take a breath and think about every single thing we care about, truly. It sounds hyperbolic on my part but it is not. Think about clean air, clean water, safe food, education, the IT infrastructure, the road infrastructure. ... Think about cities, think about job retraining, scientific research, innovation, the arts—the list could just go on. The federal budget as a mechanism touches every single one of us really every second of every day.”

If federal spending cuts are what Congress unequivocally wants, then as a nation we would be better served trimming off billions from the military budget and leaving everything else alone. Instead of allowing the sequestration plan to cut spending equally from discretionary military and nonmilitary budgets, Comerford says, “We need a plan to significantly reduce Pentagon spending and restore the unemployment rate and to put Americans on a sounder path toward security.” But by security, Comerford doesn’t mean “national security.” She means “educational security, economic security and climate security.”


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