New Poor People’s Campaign demands redirecting military dollars to domestic needs
Rev Barber | Poor People's Campaign via Twitter

WASHINGTON—Unveiling a comprehensive alternative to business as usual, the New Poor People’s Campaign opened its mass D.C. gathering with a detailed budget and domestic policy plan to cut the military budget almost in half and redirect those dollars to domestic needs: Health care, public schools, better housing, well-paying jobs and “a green infrastructure.”

The “moral budget” would also enact automatic voting rights, end voter suppression, mass incarceration, and anti-immigrant policies, and pass an immediate $15 hourly minimum wage nationwide, among other agenda items.

“The problem is not that we don’t have enough dollars, but we don’t have enough moral capacity to turn to our neighbor and say ‘It is time to change,’” campaign co-chair Rev. William Barber said in his keynote address. “We are here because we can’t be silent anymore.”

Barber also said the redirected priorities, plus an all-out battle to stop climate change, would actually enhance the U.S. economy and aid everyone – except the rich, who now benefit from the status quo. The budget demands higher taxes on them, too.

“We don’t lack for resources at all,” says The Poor People’s Moral Budget: Everybody Has A Right To Live. “The problem is that we invest our resources in priorities that fail to meet the needs of millions of people whose potential is being thwarted, whose lives are being minimized, and who are dying unnecessarily through violence and neglect.  These misplaced priorities are not only damaging our social fabric, they are moving us towards a fundamentally unstable economy.”

But the budget isn’t just a 122-page heavily footnoted document. Barber, his colleagues and members of the New Poor People’s Campaign’s Moral Action Congress in D.C. quizzed a host of Democratic presidential contenders about it on June 17 and took it to Congress on June 19.

“Many people said that our demands are politically impossible and too expensive,” Barber said, “But we’ve learned that it is not a moral budget that is too expensive. It is the costs of inequality and continuing immoral policies that we cannot afford.”

“Our research found that alleviating poverty and racism and protecting the planet are good for people, and good for the economy. Policies like pro-immigration reforms, health care for all, and expanded voting rights would actually save money,” added Lindsay Koshgarian of the Institute for Policy Studies, who co-authored the budget.

“Meanwhile, we spend hundreds of billions of dollars for counterproductive uses like never-ending war, mass incarceration, and lower taxes for the wealthy, corporations and Wall Street. If we choose to invest in infrastructure, education, clean drinking water, or any number of other priorities, the resources are there and can be raised.

“Our nation’s current allocation of resources prioritizes winning wars above all other sources of security, but true security does not mean winning wars. True security means living with dignity, earning a living wage, educating our children, living free from the effects of racism, and knowing that if we get sick or lose a job, there will be a system in place to help.

“There is a better way forward and it is within our reach,” the budget introduction concludes.

The NPPC unveiled its budget after several years of mass meetings and discussions from coast to coast and based the document on its own agenda for lifting elimination of poverty to head of the U.S. political discussion. Barber and NPPC calculate that more than 40% of U.S. residents are poor or near-poor and that government priorities, directed by and toward the rich, have only made the situation worse over the past several decades.

It also comes as the Democratic-run U.S. House is passing money bills to keep the government going in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. While those measures reflect different spending levels in specific categories from the right-wing GOP Trump administration, they do not change the overall thrust of U.S. spending, which sees almost half of “domestic discretionary” money going to the Pentagon.

“Where policy has introduced inequality, policy must undo it. We need a full range of policies to right these wrongs,” the NPPC’s Moral Budget states.

Those include ”a living wage for all, the right to unionize and to receive equal pay, job creation through infrastructure and other badly needed investments, a federal jobs guarantee for each person willing and able to work who is excluded from the private job market, and a robust, accessible, and fully funded safety net for those for whom work is not the right option are all required to ensure that no person in the United States lives in poverty.”

“The gains of America’s unions, and of the civil rights movement, have been under attack by elite extremists who have waged a stealth attack on our public institutions,” Barber added in his keynote.

The Moral Budget aims at reversing that spending imbalance as part of eliminating poverty. Its key planks include, but are not limited to:

* Tax the rich, firms and Wall Street to make them pay their fair share – especially since they’ve benefited from taxpayer money for everything from schools to infrastructure. The budget proposes raising $886 billion by taxing the rich, including restoring top marginal tax rates to higher levels. An annual wealth tax on the 75,000 richest families would raise $275 billion alone.

* Restoration and enhancement of voting rights, including automatic registration when people turn 18, more polling places, especially in minority communities, ending voter suppression laws and re-enfranchisement of people who have served their sentences.

*  A $350 billion cut in military spending, and closure of 60% (480) of U.S. military bases abroad, plus demobilizing their troops through retirement and attrition. That would save $90 billion. Curren

Pentagon spending, of more than $716 billion, goes “for fighting endless wars, maintaining a worldwide network of 800 military bases, stoking dangerous arms races, and subsidizing for-profit corporate contractors,” it says.

* Ending the wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere would save another $66 billion.

The Moral Budget calls the wars “deeply immoral.” It would cancel GOP President Donald Trump’s “space force,” too.

“Even with that” overall military spending “cut of almost 50%, “our military budget would still be larger than that of China, Russia, and Iran combined,” the NPPC budget notes. It also calls for an end to U.S. aid to foreign militaries and U.S. weapons sales abroad.

* Redirecting the military money to health, housing and education could also help cut the income gap between the rich and the rest of us. “Pentagon contracts and profits contribute to unnecessary military purchases as well as income inequality. The CEOs of the top five Pentagon contractors received a combined total of $96 million in compensation in 2017,” the budget notes. “Investment advisors promote defense stocks as particularly lucrative for investors, advising them to buy more as the Pentagon budget increases.

“Since the richest 1% holds more than half of national wealth invested in stocks and mutual funds the profits on these investments are largely accruing to the wealthiest Americans. And the average Pentagon contractor salary is almost $200,000,  compared to top pay for a four-star general or admiral at $189,600 and just $20,172 for the lowest-ranking enlisted soldiers,” the budget says.

The redirected money is needed for domestic priorities “because we are seeing a massacre of the programs designed to help the poor, children and families in this nation,” Barber declared.

* Comprehensive immigration reform, plus an end to the GOP Trump administration’s mass roundups and deportations of black and brown people and splitting and jailing of families and kids seeking asylum.

Immigration reform “would allow millions of families to live in security — and result in a net gain for the federal budget. One immigration proposal in Congress would cost the federal government around $26 billion per year, but those costs would be more than balanced by the $46 billion per year in increased revenues from income and payroll taxes.

*Expanding Medicaid to the 14 states that now lack universal coverage of their poor residents under that combined federal-state health care system. Though the budget does not say so – it points out that it’s non-partisan – the GOP runs all those states and imposes onerous requirements on current Medicaid recipients, as well.

The Medicaid expansion, along with strengthening and closing gaps in the Affordable Care Act, would, however, be way stations on the way to government-run single-payer health care for all. That’s a key cause of National Nurses United and it’s backed by at least 15 other unions.

“As a nation, we must value and affirm all lives by ensuring health coverage and access to all health services for all. A universal health plan in which the federal government is the single-payer for health services is both morally responsible and, as it ultimately lowers health care costs, economically sound.

A moral health care plan would also prohibit managed care organizations, accountable care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, hospital systems, and insurance companies from profiteering off the health care system,” the Moral Budget says.

* A 25% cut in mass incarceration spending, as “a first step” to “ending the violence of the criminal justice system,” especially “ending the militarization of policing.”

“The criminal justice system disproportionately targets, arrests, and incarcerates people of color and the poor and touches a vast number of Americans.  A report from the Equal Justice Initiative found one in four adults has had a sibling incarcerated, one in five adults has had a parent incarcerated, and one in seven has had a child incarcerated. A thriving industry of corporations profits from imprisonment on a mass scale.

The budget also calls for ending the for-profit prison industry, which currently garners $4 billion of the $179 billion the federal government, states, cities, and counties spend on mass incarceration – and that’s not counting $2.9 billion in fines or billions of dollars in lost wages.

“Truly ending the system of mass incarceration would require systemic changes to how we invest in communities, how communities are policed, how cases are prosecuted, how courts try cases, and how we reintegrate those who have already been incarcerated. It will require a fundamental shift away from a militarized approach to criminal justice,” the budget says. It does not detail how that systemic change should occur.

* Strong gun control. The budget notes those states with it have seen a sharp drop in gun-caused crimes in the last several decades, and those without it have seen increases. Gun control would accompany the de-militarization of the police.

*Restoring the right to unionize. The NPPC’s moral budget says deunionization has contributed to increased income inequality, and it’s especially hit men. It also denounces so-called “right to work” laws for driving down wages and living standards, but it does not include specific proposals for how to increase union density.

It quotes, as an example, Wisconsin worker Solo Little John: “The only way we can lift ourselves up and out of poverty is by demanding what we need, and that’s the right to live a good quality of life. My family deserves to live above the poverty line. I demand a union so that I can have all of the rights I deserve as a worker.”

Non-union men suffer, too, when union density drops, the budget notes. “Between 1973 and 2017, no union men have lost roughly $2,700 per year, and non-union women about half as much. This represents roughly $150 billion each year no longer showing up in the paychecks of non-union workers, simply because organized labor has declined,” the NPPC budget says.

“If restoring the right to unionize also restored unionization rates and wages seen in the past, we could see as much as a $150 billion increase in wages by securing this right.,” the budget adds.

“In the absence of widespread unionization, poor people-led campaigns like the Fight for $15 have led the way toward increasing the minimum wage in cities and states across the country. A higher minimum wage would benefit everyone. A higher minimum wage would boost consumer spending and generate new economic activity because lower-income households spend more of their income than higher-income households, who tend to save more.

“If real living wages were implemented, public assistance programs could save substantial resources.

According to a University of California, Berkeley study, public assistance programs spend $153 billion a year as a direct result of low wages, most of which could be saved by legislating a living wage.”

“In fact, if the federal minimum wage was increased to $15, 49 million workers would see raises that would total $328 billion.  If the minimum wage was increased to the $22 housing wage estimated by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, 83 million workers would get a cumulative raise of more than $1 trillion.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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