WASHINGTON – The May 1 vote in the House Armed Services Committee authorizing a fiscal year military budget of $383.4 billion has drawn sharp criticism from peace and social justice groups who denounced the military-industrial complex for devouring billions of dollars that could be better spent to meet the nation’s crying needs in education, the environment, health and other social programs. The committee also approved a separate $10 billion military contingency fund.

The legislation, representing a $45.3 billion increase over spending in FY 2002, is the largest increase in military spending since 1966 at the height of the Vietnam War. It is the first step in a $2.5 trillion, five-year spending spree for weapons systems such as the F-22 fighter, the Crusader artillery system and Star Wars. Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) cast the lone vote against the measures when they cleared the committee by a 57-1 vote.

“I think the impact of the military budget in crippling our ability to meet human needs at home is enormous,” said Ruth Benn, a researcher for the War Resisters League (WRL) and author of a widely circulated leaflet titled, “Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes.” Benn said that $876 billion, some 46 percent of the FY 2003 budget will go to pay for past, current and future wars, including interest on the national debt, as well as current operations and weapons.

“If you prepare for war, you are going to have war,” she told the World. Benn charged that top military contractors, such as GE, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, are reaping huge profits from the swollen arms budget.

Scott Lynch, spokesman for Peace Action, cited the $11 billion Crusader artillery system as a classic example of the workings of the military-industrial complex. Lynch pointed to the actions of Army Secretary Thomas E. White, a former Enron Vice President, who is under investigation.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld alleges that White telephoned key Republican lawmakers earlier this month to tip them off that he planned to cancel the Crusader system. The $11 billion system is produced by United Defense, an Oklahoma-based subsidiary of the Carlyle Group, which has ties to the Bush family. This whole fight highlights some of the internal contradictions in the administration and the corporate interests they represent.

“These Bush officials are poster children of what is wrong with American politics,” Lynch told the World. “Many of them came straight out of the military-industrial complex.” Lynch said there is an orgy of military spending and all these weapons are being funded adding: “President Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex has come to fruition.”

Bush’s military buildup comes in the midst of a recession that has sharply reduced tax revenues and a budget crisis created by last year’s $2 trillion tax cut for Big Business and the rich. The budget surpluses once enjoyed by federal, state, and local governments have vanished, with states’ combined deficits of more than $70 billion.

While waste continues unabated in the Pentagon, social programs are cut, under-funded or “zeroed out.” The budget resolution that cleared the House earlier this year cut $700 million in job training and employment programs, $85 million to train doctors in children’s hospitals, $596 million from the Department of Education, $9 million from worker safety programs, $268 million from Community Block Grants to states, and $417 million to repair public housing.

Although Bush had to retreat on plans to cut the Pell Grant Program, which enables minority and working-class youth to attend college, the White House continues to whittle away at the student loan program. And here, as is the case in a growing number of instances, the administration is faced with a growing backlash.

“All over the country, students and their families are facing tuition increases that endanger their dreams of a college education,” said Julia Beatty, president of the United States Student Association. “The financial aid funding that was proposed in the administration’s budget is woefully inadequate.”

All this points to the fact that in order to stop the unending war policies of the Bush administration, it’s going to come down to the majority of American people demanding ‘butter, not guns.’

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com