The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday has been making the rounds of the blogosphere:
The poll found 51 percent of Americans support reducing defense spending, and only 28 percent want to cut Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor. A mere 18 percent back cuts in the Social Security retirement program.
The poll is getting less circulation among the Village commentators, who if they will address it will undoubtedly say something about those poor misguided Americans who really just don't understand the difficult things like big budgets, and just don't know what's good for them. What's good for them, obviously, is working until they're ready to drop and then subsisting on catfood and the knowledge that they sacrificed their share.
What you probably won't be hearing from the Villagers when it comes to spending cuts is this, from Christopher Hellman, a military spending analyst with progressive think tank the National Priorities Project.
Though Obama’s 2012 budget remains in legislative limbo, the figures offered within provide a meaningful glimpse into the sorts of costs government programs are expected to incur. Hellman’s breakdown sheds light on just how much money the U.S. really spends on national security.
Last week, Hellman wrote an article for political blog the Tom Dispatch in which he explained that the $558 billion Pentagon budget and the $118 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t come close to depicting the whole picture of national security spending. Nuclear program maintenance, additional war and terrorism-related operational costs and homeland security all drive up defense expenses by nearly $90 billion. Intelligence, veterans programs, miscellaneous peacekeeping and counterterrorism efforts and military pensions push national security spending yet further, tipping total costs just over $1 trillion. Hellman caps that figure off with the $185 billion the U.S. must pay in 2012 in interest on standing defense debts and arrives at a sum total of $1.22 trillion. To put that number in perspective, Hellman says that a country with a gross domestic product that high would have the 15th largest economy in the world, ahead of Indonesia, Australia and Saudi Arabia.
So take out the $129.3 billion included in his calculations for veterans programs, because the nation sent these people to fight for us and they damned well deserve every meager penny spent on them. Take it out and you're still well over a trillion—trillion in one year of defense spending. Now, defense contractors aren't worrying about what they're going to subsist on in their dotage (though some of their shop floor workers in right to work states might be, now that austerity rules).
$700 billion for unending, pointless wars is bad enough—bring them home and spend the money taking care of them here. But $1.22 trillion—enough to fund a comfortably well-off country—when the social safety net for the country is being shredded is obscene.
(See Meteor Blades's Night Owls post from March 3, 2011, for much more on this.)