A real "moment of truth"

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The release this week of the Republican-led House Budget Committee's proposed fiscal 2012 budget has drawn cheers from right-wing commentators for its draconian approach to turning around a deficit expected to exceed $1.5 trillion this fiscal year and ultimately eliminating the national debt - now over $14 trillion.

While calling for increases to military spending - now well over half of "discretionary" federal spending - and cutting top tax rates for wealthy individuals and businesses, the proposal announced by Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., would repeal federal health care reform, privatize Medicare and devastate Medicaid. It would sharply cut funds for other human needs programs, among them education, transportation, food safety and veterans' services. It envisions cutting federal spending by about $6 trillion over the next 10 years.

Ryan said of his proposal, "This is not a budget, this is a cause." And at week's end, Republicans were prepared to shut down the government for that "cause."

Among the commentators was New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks, who declared in his April 4 column, "Moment of Truth," that Ryan had "grasped reality with both hands." Brooks called the proposal "the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes."

The Obama administration has also called for cuts to human needs programs, which though far smaller than those the Republicans advocate, would still cause widespread pain.

Leaving aside whether reducing the deficit should be a top concern now, with an economy only starting to recover from the worst downturn since the 1930s, or the $1 trillion cost of extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the very rich, there is another way to turn around the annual deficit and ultimately eliminate the national debt, while not just preserving, but actually increasing government spending on vital human services.

It's a way that would increase national security, both through helping to build an international climate of cooperation instead of conflict, and through assuring that Americans' most basic needs, including health care, housing, food security and education are met.

Last year the Sustainable Defense Task Force, initiated by a bipartisan group of members of Congress and made up of experts from a spectrum of viewpoints, came up with ways to cut nearly $1 trillion from military spending over the next decade. Writing in Talking Points Memo in February, task force member William Hartung of the New America Foundation pointed out that this figure is comparable to the $1.1 trillion the Obama administration hopes to save in domestic spending.

Hartung points out that U.S. military spending equals that of all the rest of the world, and notes that many of the Pentagon budget's most expensive items "are irrelevant to the most urgent threats we face."

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has for some time urged a 25 percent cut in U.S. military spending, which could save many tens of billions from the administration's proposed Pentagon budget for 2012 alone.

In 2008, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes put the total cost of the Iraq war, including related costs such as treating and caring for returning veterans, at $3 trillion. Two and a half years later, they said that estimate "was, if anything, too low."

Last year it was reported that monthly Pentagon spending on the Afghanistan war had for the first time exceeded monthly spending on the war in Iraq. So costs there might ultimately reach similar levels.

And the first week of U.S. involvement in the intervention in Libya reportedly cost $550 million.

The northern California-based New Priorities Campaign - part of the nationwide New Priorities Network - puts it this way:

Our nation needs foreign and defense policies that serve the authentic needs of maintaining our security in a world where the use of force should be the last resort, not the first response ... Our nation's security can best be strengthened by reliance on diplomacy and negotiation, on economic development and education, rather than more troops, weapons and war.

New Priorities calls for ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, making major cuts in Pentagon spending and making "immediate, significant increases" in domestic spending for jobs, infrastructure, new technologies, health care, environment, an effective social safety net and other human needs programs.

Yes, David Brooks: There is another way to lower deficits and the national debt, and at the same time let our country use its tremendous resources to make sure that everyone's basic needs are met. That will truly be "grasping reality with both hands." That will be the real "moment of truth."

Image: Jeff Gitchel // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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  • speak sister!

    Posted by ismael, 04/12/2011 4:54pm (3 years ago)

  • Excellent article. The US will be more secure by spending less on the military and by making more friends rather than more enemies around the world. It is immoral that the GOP is proposing these domestic program cuts for the needy and tax cuts for the greedy at the current time of crisis.

    The plutocrats in the US don't care about national security abroad or social security at home. They are determined to dominate the world for their own interests and they don't care about the cost.

    US voters and maybe even Obama and the Democrats need to wake up.

    Posted by Gary Semenchuk, 04/10/2011 4:03pm (3 years ago)

  • We need more and more articles like this one and more and more comments like David's.
    The best way "[to] ...let our country use its tremendous resources to make sure that every one's basic needs are met."-is to make our natural resources and all capital publicly owned. This is the first point of W.E.B. Du Bois's American "Communist Manifesto",part of his application for membership letter to the CPUSA,in 1961.
    His second point,is to allow public control of transportation and communication.
    What this would do for jobs,industrial development,infrastructure development,fighting racism,war and repression would be off the charts.
    Instead of colossal resources thrown down the bottomless hole of war,hell and destruction,pointed out in this excellent article,resources would be magnified and economically regenerated,the way the great Hy Lumer advocated,making sure that human need was communicated and addressed,that need of the whole public,the children,the elderly,the women-and maybe most of all- the well being of our public planet, mother earth.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 04/08/2011 5:20pm (3 years ago)

  • I bet you can find more than one person in the Pentagon
    who would agree. They know Americans want to be safe
    but don't take advantage of their fears to advance a
    program. Tax the rich, take care of all American as is
    needed, and make peace a priority. As is with war, the
    mess left by past leaders is ours to fix, government has
    a clue that we must choose a new direction but they need all of us to point out that direction. Government by
    the people means selflesness, what does my neighbor need? A JOB, A ROOF OVERHEAD, MEDICINE, AND THE
    BELIEF THAT WHEN YOUR OLD AND TIRED YOU WILL
    BE CARED FOR.
    LOVE FRON NEW HAVEN, CT.
    DAVE

    Posted by david w. p. roy, 04/08/2011 3:14pm (3 years ago)

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