A New Day Shines – The Tower, February 5 2010
Amidst the well-worded rhetoric of last week’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for the government to get smart on spending. Referencing the strains American families presently feel, Obama promised changes to control costs and to cut down the deficit. ”We will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t,” he preached while threatening veto power to achieve budget reform. The Obama administration attained the perfect opportunity to put force behind the President’s words with the release Monday of its 2011 budget proposal. It was the perfect opportunity to devise a budget for the common good.
Obama’s remarks were on target. Government, especially in times of hardship, must be mindful of whose money it is really spending. Yet, once again, a politician’s words forcefully seize the mind, while breaking down upon implementation. Policy experts far more experienced than this author can debate the effectiveness of specific cost-cutting measures applied. Regardless, most can agree that a budget for the common good-where educators and emergency responders need not pinch pennies and the destitute are not denied their rights to hope, health, and happiness-is the budget America strives for.
A budget for the common good will require a drastic response and sacrifice on the part of our elected officials. If Obama desires to truly reorient priorities and subdue the budget, his administration in unison with Congress must overcome taboo. Obama and Congress must not let the military generals continue to waste billions when social services suffer financial freezes. They must hack the War Department’s budget.
Embedded within Obama’s 2011 budget proposal, the War Department (officially renamed the Department of Defense in 1947 in a public relations spin) will be allotted $708,000,000,000. This excludes $33 billion tacked on to this year’s budget for the Afghanistan troop escalation. A policy brief published by the Center for New American Security states that, when adjusted for inflation, Obama’s proposed budget is 33% higher than US. military spending during the Vietnam war and 64% higher than the average of Cold War spending.
A quick breakdown helps one further understand where all that money really goes. Of the 2011 budget, $732.06 billion is discretionary spending, not already mandated by federal law. Only $159.3 billion is allocated directly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, categorized as “Overseas Contingency Operations.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made token cuts in the budget proposal. This still leaves $572.76 billion for the War Department to cover pointless, but enormous administrative costs, continue irrelevant Cold War-era policies, and build needless instruments of destruction.
In short, the War Department’s proposed budget includes the greatest military spending since World War II and this during a period of significant pain and struggle for many Americans. This is a spending increase for failing wars, ”modernized” nuclear weapons (even after Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for Opposing them), and other violent instruments violating the vision of a peaceful world.
This reckless spending comes at a time when budgets involving public safety, education, healthcare, and services for the poor, innocent, and vulnerable across the nation are drastically slashed. Is more military money the answer in a quest for a budget for the common good? Does it fulfill the teachings of the nonviolent Jesus who asked us to put the poor first, who asked us to be peacemakers, who asked us to pray for our persecutors, not murder and maim them?
The answer is clearly a resounding no. In closing reflect on the words of Martin Luther King, ]r., “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” It is time as Catholics, as Christians, and as people of good conscience we stand up to the War Department’s outrageous ways and demand a budget for the common good.
Bob Shine is a sophomore Theology and Religious Studies major. Amongst other things, he writes this weekly column and blogs at newdayshines.wordpress.com where you can leave comments on this article and other posts.