What does America stand for? Opportunity and equality? Or imperialism and greed?
The fact is that every year, without fail, our elected representatives hand the Pentagon more than half of the entire discretionary budget, or more than half a trillion dollars each year – leaving less than half for education, health care, the environment – and everything else we care about.
That’s a powerful statement of our priorities as a nation. But how did we get here? And how can we get a fresh start on the priorities that we hold dear: equal opportunity, education, the environment, and more?
We got here through a lopsided and total disregard for the rules of play. Each year in this new millennium, Congress has provided the Pentagon with its own special slush fund – a pot of money above and beyond the Pentagon’s already hefty “base budget.” The fund totals $59 billion in fiscal year 2016, and amounts to more than ten percent of the Pentagon’s overall budget. If the slush fund were an independent government agency, it would be the 5th largest in the entire federal government.
And here’s the kicker: unlike the entire rest of the discretionary budget, the Pentagon’s slush fund is not subject to any legislated spending caps, making it an incredible budget gimmick. It means that when it comes to Pentagon spending, the sky is the limit.
But that’s not all. Government agencies, like most private companies, are subject to an annual audit, to make sure federal dollars are spent as they are supposed to be and that no one’s cooking the books. Every major government agency except for one: the Pentagon and its slush fund. Unlike other government agencies, the Pentagon has never once passed an audit, leaving taxpayers to guess at how hundreds of billions of their tax dollars are spent each year. So while other government agencies at least attempt accountability and transparency, the Pentagon seems to think it’s above it all.
Meanwhile, more than half the Pentagon’s budget goes to private contractors, and independent outside groups have estimated that tens of billions of dollars of the Pentagon’s budget is wasteful spending.
Whereas the Pentagon lives on Easy Street, other priorities like education and health care have no slush fund - and no way to sidestep budget caps like the Pentagon does. This means clean drinking water, job training programs, and more are forced live within their means, while the Pentagon and its slush fund eat up more than half of the discretionary budget every year. And this is while polling shows Americans think improving our education system, the economy, and safety net programs are top priorities.
There is a way out of this mess. One federal budget proposal, put forth by the Congressional Progressive Caucus - the People’s Budget - would redirect wasteful Pentagon spending to peoples’ needs. The proposal would bring 3.6 million good paying jobs to our economy by 2026, transform our crumbling roads and infrastructure, and guarantee every student access to higher education.
Only the People’s Budget would make the Pentagon accountable to taxpayers by subjecting the massive agency to an annual audit. Only the People’s Budget would do away with the Pentagon slush fund after fiscal year 2017, saving $761 billion over ten years, enough to fund 9 million Head Start slots or provide nearly 23 million students with scholarships over the same ten year period. And more than any other budget proposal, the People’s Budget would achieve Pentagon savings by allowing the military to gradually shrink through natural attrition, and by limiting rampant outsourcing that diverts taxpayer dollars to corporate profits.
America can stand for opportunity and equality, if we make it so. If those sound like your priorities, take action right now and tell your member of Congress to support a federal budget that works for all Americans and reigns in wasteful Pentagon spending. Tell them you support the People’s Budget!