When I was an undergraduate in college - thirty years ago - I saw a poster in someone's apartment. It was a photograph of a group of kids scurrying happily about in a school playground. The caption read:
"It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber."
For decades, it's been a Holy Grail of progressive activists in the United States: cut the bloated Pentagon budget and use the money for human needs instead.
But on Thursday of next week - rescheduled from this Friday due to the tragedy in Boston - the Holy Grail will be within reach. All we have to do to cut the bloated Pentagon budget and use the money for human needs instead is kill the "chained CPI" - the President's proposal to cut Social Security and veterans' benefits by lowering the cost-of-living adjustment.
The reason it has become this simple is that President Obama and Congress have made it this simple. The "grand bargain" that President Obama is seeking with Republicans who want to protect the bloated Pentagon budget would do three key things: 1) protect the bloated Pentagon budget 2) cut Social Security and veterans' benefits and 3) raise taxes.
If the President's effort to achieve a "grand bargain" with Republicans who want to protect the bloated Pentagon budget fails, then these three key things will happen instead: 1) the bloated Pentagon budget will be cut 2) Social Security and veterans' benefits will be spared 3) taxes will not be raised.
According to the current Washington consensus, the President's proposal to cut Social Security is essential to the "grand bargain." Indeed, cutting Social Security and veterans' benefits while protecting the bloated Pentagon budget appears to be the core purpose of the "grand bargain."
Therefore, killing the chained CPI will have two wonderful effects: 1) protecting Social Security and veterans' benefits and 2) forcing the bloated Pentagon budget to be cut.
It's that simple as a logical matter, but it's not that simple as a political matter. The problem, as things ordinarily go, is that although we live in a democracy, we don't all have equal political weight. If it were simply up to public opinion, there would be no question about the result: the bloated Pentagon budget would be cut, and Social Security and veterans' benefits would be spared.
But unfortunately, as we all know, Washington doesn't necessarily work like that. The people who want to cut Social Security and protect the bloated Pentagon budget have much more political weight than the number of people who support their agenda.
But just because they have disproportionate political weight, doesn't mean that they necessarily get to win. Bill Clinton tried to privatize Social Security. Vigorous public opposition defeated him. George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security. Vigorous public opposition defeated him. It will all come down to passion, intensity, whether we can turn out our troops. With enough public pressure, Congress can be scared off from supporting the "grand bargain."
That's why next Thursday is a crucial test. We've showed we can make a huge stink online. We've showed we can generate a massive number of phone calls to Congress. Can we make a huge stink in local Congressional offices, and get covered in local media doing so?
MoveOn has called for petition deliveries against cutting Social Security next Thursday in Congressional offices. As of this writing, there are 24 events scheduled (the Madison event is still on Friday of this week), delivering petitions against Social Security cuts. Of these, at least eight of the events so far are explicitly calling for cutting the bloated Pentagon budget instead: Erie, PA; Madison, WI; Columbus, OH; Champaign, IL; Chicago, IL; New Haven, CT; Newburgh, NY; Arleta, CA. Most of the "cut the Pentagon instead" events will be delivering this petition, which at this writing has more than 27,000 signatures.
You can find out if an event is already scheduled near you here. If not, you can sign up to host an event here.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.