By Miriam Pemberton
The Obama administration’s budget proposal for 2017 would jack up military spending higher than it’s been since World War II. The Republican leadership in Congress wants to jack it up higher than that. Fortunately these aren’t our only choices. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has mapped out a saner alternative in what it is calling the People’s Budget. The CPC’s budget proposal would, for one thing, end the Pentagon tactic of having a war budget—separate, and on top of, “regular” Pentagon spending—that has become an all-purpose slush fund for the military’s wish list projects, many of which have nothing to do with the wars we are fighting.
The challenge in reining in the impulses of public officials to throw ever more money at the military is that the economies of communities all across the country have become dependent on it. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are now tied to the fortunes of Pentagon spending. But luckily the People’s Budget has embedded in it the means to overcome this Pentagon dependency.
The first and most important way of dislodging an entrenched military economy is to replace the money that fuels it with other spending, on things we actually need. Here the People’s Budget is especially strong. Its first and biggest idea is a $1 trillion investment in our country’s infrastructure, paid for by military cuts and a fairer tax code. These investments would begin to take care of the decades of neglect to our bridges and water systems.
They would also begin to fund the new infrastructure of a future based on clean energy and transport. The Budget allots $150 billion to upgrade the electrical grid to make it suitable for renewable energy sources. It funds high-speed rail projects, solar installations and bus and rail car manufacturing—all the kinds of big projects well-suited to absorb the skilled workforce of defense manufacturing.
And the kicker is, studies have shown repeatedly that there are more well-paying jobs to be had in these lines of work than in manufacturing for the military.
But there’s still the question of how to get from here to there. Moving the center of budgetary gravity toward civilian investments gets you a long way, but not all the way, to a peace economy. Defense-dependent communities need help thinking through ways to ease the transition from one economic base to another.
The People’s Budget has answers there too. It increases funding for a Pentagon agency called the Office of Economic Adjustment, whose reason for being is to give planning grants and technical assistance to communities that are trying to plan an orderly transition to a more diversified jobs base. Also potentially useful in connecting these communities to the emerging green economy is funding in the People’s Budget for job training and economic development to ease the transition from fossil fuels.
In the midst of the worst political dysfunction in memory, comes this reminder of what a budget that gives priority to real national needs in general, and a peace economy in particular, could look like. I’m grateful.
Miriam Pemberton is a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and directs its Peace Economy Transitions Project.