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Con: Spending billions on the Navy when millions are needy is obscene

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Mark Weisbrot
November 7, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, “Should the U.S. spend billions more on the Navy?”

WASHINGTON -- The Budget Control Act of 2011 required automatic spending cuts unless Congress could agree on a long-term deficit reduction plan.

When the law was passed, the conventional wisdom was that the automatic cuts in Pentagon spending would be unthinkable, and this would force the long-term budget deal.

The conventional wisdom proved to be wrong, and the cuts to Pentagon spending began in March 2013.

It was a dumb idea to reduce the deficit with unemployment elevated, but given that government spending was going to be cut, the fact that this resulted in cutting the bloated Pentagon was good.

Now we hear whining and complaining from the Pentagon spending lobby—and especially the Navy, which is pushing for a new line of $14 billion super-carriers—that America’s national security will be compromised. Of course that depends on how you define “America” and “national security.”

If we are talking about the actual security of American citizens and residents—well, a huge part of Pentagon spending is clearly unrelated to that.

No one has explained how the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq made us safer, and it cost the lives of more than 4,400 Americans and several hundred thousand Iraqis. It’s tough to see how the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has increased our security, or the drone killings of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries—all of which are creating new enemies every day.

No, the Pentagon lobby’s real fear right now is that people will see that Pentagon cuts don’t endanger us in the least, and will want more.

According to the polls, the public already wants much deeper cuts in Pentagon spending than do our pampered and Pentagon-contractor-financed politicians—who do not have to sacrifice their own sons and daughters for their imperial ambitions nor suffer from the economic consequences.

The sequester has been in effect since March, and even if it continues through all of next year, the base Pentagon budget will only return to the level of 2007—excluding wars. It will still be more, in real, inflation-adjusted terms, than it was at the height of the Vietnam War.

The Navy plans to spend $2.2 billion this year on the Littoral Combat Ship, and wants more ballistic missile submarines for as much as $8 billion each.

Would you really rather have these special gifts for Pentagon contractors than thousands of teachers, or Head Start preschool programs for thousands of children?

And these Navy luxury items are small change compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars of Pentagon waste that is planned for the coming decade.

The worst deal of all would be a “grand bargain”—a long-term budget deal to avoid the cuts in Pentagon spending by cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits instead.

This is no bargain; it is more like “grand theft” from our senior citizens: their average Social Security check is about $1,100 a month and makes up most of their income.

It is often argued that Pentagon spending creates jobs, but in fact it creates fewer jobs than other forms of government spending or even some tax cuts. This means that if overall spending is fixed, as it currently is under the Budget Control Act, more cuts in the Pentagon and fewer elsewhere will provide more jobs for our 11 million officially unemployed.

We narrowly avoided entering the war in Syria in September, because public opposition prevented Congress from voting for it and President Obama from bombing without congressional approval.

A smaller military will mean fewer wars and fewer lives destroyed, as our leaders will be forced to scale back their ambitions. We don’t need a bigger budget for the Navy or the military—we need a smaller empire, or better yet none at all.

Mark Weisbrot is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Readers may write to him at CEPR, 1611 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20009.



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