Budget priorities must shift from military to human needs

by Maj. Gen. George, A. Buskirk (Ret.) and Rev. Stanley Wachtstetter

This piece appeared in The Hill on April 8, 2013.

Much of the focus in the media and on Capitol Hill recently has been on deficits and budget cuts to domestic and Pentagon spending. Yet, the partisan debates ignore the fact that the best way to get our debt under control is to make the investments that create jobs and get our economy back on its feet. We also clearly need to make changes to our tax system, which has not only ballooned our debt but also played a significant role in the income and wealth disparities that now plague our nation. As Christians and patriotic Americans, we believe the Biblical principle that “from those to whom much is given, much is expected” is a good guideline for setting our priorities on taxes.

But we also need to take a careful look at the spending side of the coin. We believe we can make real cuts to government spending that have a real impact on our debt without mortgaging our future or sacrificing our values. We need to be strategic with how we invest our money as a nation -- strategic in how we reshape our military to confront 21st-century threats, and strategic in how we invest in our families, children, and future at home.
 
When it comes to military spending, we need to use this opportunity to empower our generals to create a leaner, more agile, modern fighting force that is prepared to defend us against 21st Century threats. Despite some of the doomsday talk from politicians about the planned cuts to Pentagon spending, the mandatory cuts in the sequester merely return Pentagon budgets to the levels they were at in 2006 — during the height of the “surge” in Iraq when we were fighting two simultaneous wars. Those are hardly crippling levels, which is why many in our military recognize the need for more reasonable budgets that will help ensure we stay focused on strategic priorities.
 
For example, Congress is currently trying to spend over half a trillion dollars on nuclear weapons systems designed to defend against Cold War threats, even though every dollar spent on those outdated programs is a dollar taken from equipment and training our troops need to protect us from current and future threats. One of the nuclear weapons programs that best highlights the problem is a proposed fleet of new nuclear submarines. For the lifetime cost of just one of those submarines, we could provide body-armor to every one of our troops overseas, add IED-resistant armor to all our Humvees, house and treat every homeless U.S. veteran, dramatically increase funding for our injured warrior programs, and still have $15 billion left over to pay down our debt. Yet some in Congress are pushing to build 12 new nuclear subs!
 
There is room to cut fat and pork in the Pentagon budget. We just need to make sure that when cuts happen, Congress puts our troops first and ensures those cuts come from the outdated systems and pork barrel projects.
 
In the same way we need to reshape our military and put our troops first, we need to reshape our economic priorities to reward work over wealth and to give struggling families the support they need. America’s faith communities have come forward to create a “Circle of Protection” around America’s struggling families to ensure that politicians don’t balance the budget on the backs of the least of these. This isn’t just morally right and what Jesus called on us to do, it’s also smart economic policy. One of the best indications a person is poor in America is that they are working multiple jobs.
 
And approximately 26 million Americans are paid so little — that even working full time — their families would still be poor. These are the customers in our stores and they epitomize the American ideal of working hard to try to create a better future for your family.
 
We need to be giving struggling families a leg up, and basing our spending and tax systems on core American values like rewarding hard work over hoarded wealth, and the belief that we are all better off when we’re all better off.
 
At the end of the day, whether it’s Pentagon budgets or balancing tax increases vs. spending cuts, we need to remember that a bloated military and bloated wealthy class isn’t what makes America great. Our greatness comes from our values, our innovation, and our people. As our leaders chart the difficult course ahead on deciding where to cut, and balancing cuts with revenues, we encourage them to prayerfully consider their decisions and ensure our budgets reflect our values.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the positions of Oxfam America.



Major General George A. Buskirk, Jr. (Ret.) is Adjutant General, Indiana Army and Air National Guard.

Rev. Stanley Wachtstetter is Founder of the Apostolic Coalition.