A different look at the defense budget
The Mirror recently reported that Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Joe Courtney are fighting hard against Trump’s “feckless threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act.” Go, team! According to our representatives, even the threat of a veto goes squarely against bipartisan passage of the defense bill, which is apparently “the longest running traditions in Congress” — going back to the time of President Kennedy.
Blumenthal and Courtney should be heartily congratulated for bringing the big bucks back to our state’s many defense contractors — on whom we depend more and more each year.
But while Connecticut deserves its share of the pie, I would like to ask — with some fear and trembling –- if the pie is getting too big. How many of our tax dollars are going down this hole; and why?
The U.S. budgets about $740 billion for defense. For this year alone. That, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, is more than China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil spend — combined.
It’s about a round $100 billion more than is spent on Medicare, which is essential for some 44 million Americans. And it’s about ten times the $79 billion the federal government spends on primary and secondary education programs. And every year the defense numbers and projects proliferate. It is 15 percent of all federal spending and roughly half of our discretionary spending.
Do you remember “Good Ol Ike,” the former general, who warned us when he retired from the presidency about the “military industrial complex?” He told us to watch out because that complex had an insidious and yet insatiable appetite for expenditures and overseas adventures. That was about 60 years ago and look what happened since.
Isn’t it reasonable to think that deep down there are some sensible people in Russia, China, Israel and the oil states who would like to use some of their billions for the benefit of their fellow citizens instead of this endless slog of catch-up with us?
Just imagine what good could be done if just half our yearly $740 billion was spent on health, education, infrastructure and innovation. And what if that caught on in the rest of the world? Is it beyond the realm of possibility that some of our defense contractors could even move toward the civilian market, that, for example, Electric Boat could spawn Electric Train?
How did we end up in this mess? Perhaps by skipping precise, long-term thinking in order to mindlessly perpetuate “the longest long-term tradition in Congress.” Perhaps by avoiding the pointedly, painfully human understanding of the damage and suffering caused by our defense dollars. By mildly caring about the importance of “a strong defense” without accepting the responsibility for its consequences.
James Robertson is an ordained UCC minister and a partner in the law firm Carmody Torrance Sandak Hennessey.
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