As the calendar propels us toward the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, there is no issue the U.S. Congress and President Obama will address more important for our states and our communities than the federal budget. If our elected officials can’t agree on a restructured budget before the end of 2012, an agreement reached under the Budget Control Act of 2011 will kick in:
* tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans initiated under George W. Bush will expire,
* tax rates on virtually everyone will increase, and
* automatic budget cuts will occur to hundreds of programs, including the military and Medicare
While some Congressional leaders fear this “fiscal cliff,” New Jersey Peace Action and our allies in Congress demand a fiscal showdown. We agree with retired Gen. Colin Powell. There is no rational reason why we can’t deal with the deficit if we cut the Pentagon budget saying “I don’t think the defense budget should be made sacrosanct.”
On a recent CNN State of the Union, Powell noted that when he was the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Dick Cheney was the Secretary of Defense, they presided over a 25 percent cut in the Pentagon budget. And still, today, the United States spends as much on war and weapons as the rest of the world combined.
We call on our elected officials to reject the agenda of “austerity” whose proponents consider the Pentagon budget and the taxes of the top 1 percent untouchable. Implementing this agenda will force most of us to pay the cost for an economic meltdown caused by Wall Street and the banks and by nearly $1.4 trillion in runaway military spending, including the expense of two lengthy wars. More jobs are created per dollar spent in almost any other sector except the military, so redirecting our spending from the military will put the country on a road to creating jobs while protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. None of these programs contributed a dime toward the deficit. Many low-to-moderate Americans paid into these programs and depend upon them for survival.
In addition, at a time when our need for fiscal responsibility has never been greater, we can also cut our nuclear weapons budget.
In mid-November, U.S. Rep. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Congressional leadership on the issue of nuclear weapons and the fiscal cliff. He writes:
…Unchecked spending on nuclear weapons threatens to push us over the fiscal cliff. It imperils both our national and economic security. It makes us less safe by preventing investment in the systems that our soldiers need most. It jeopardizes our future by forcing cuts to programs that fund life-saving medical research, train teachers, and ensure seniors and the most vulnerable receive essential healthcare.
The Ploughshares Fund estimates that the U.S. is projected to spend more than $640 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next 10 years…
Cuts to nuclear weapons programs upwards of $100 billion over the next ten years are possible…Cut Minuteman missiles. Do not cut Medicare and Medicaid. Cut nuclear-armed B-52 and B-2 bombers. Do not cut Social Security. Invest in the research and education that will drive our future prosperity, not in weapons for a war [Cold War] we already won.
Congress must ensure that corporations and the super-rich pay their fair share of taxes. Congress can and must end the war and occupation of Afghanistan. Ending the war in Afghanistan and cutting funding for weapons even the military says it no longer needs would release enough money to eliminate all the states’ budget deficits, thus protecting the jobs of teachers, firefighters, police and other public employees.
Our elected officials need to restructure our economy so it is no longer dependent on wars and weapons and, instead, supports prosperous communities. Why not invest in renewable energy programs that both conserve resources and help slow down global warming? If we divert at least 25 percent of the military budget to community programs we can meet the growing demand for quality health care, housing and transportation as well as address the need for adequate supplies of food and clean water.
Join New Jersey Peace Action in contacting our U.S. senators and U.S. representatives about our priorities. It is important to raise our voices now as budget negotiations during this lame duck session continue. Congress last approved a budget in 1997. Every year since, our elected representatives have avoided confrontation around differing budget priorities by passing continuing resolutions and approving debt ceiling increases.
This year, let’s tell Congress to negotiate a fair deal that truly protects our communities without sending us over the fiscal cliff. The re-election of President Obama indicates that many Americans would support our approach and priorities.
Call U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg at 973-639-8700, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez at 973-645-3030, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell at 973-523-5152 and incoming U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. at 973-645-3213.
The writer is executive director of New Jersey Peace Action, based in Bloomfield.