Time to demilitarize the budget

Why are war expenditures considered a given?

Stephen Tchudi lives in Chico and works with the Beyond War Coalition.

Community forum
Wednesday (March 18), 6-8:30 p.m.,
Café Culture
(931 W. Fifth St., Chico)

I was puzzled by a recent NPR analysis of President Obama’s budget by John Ydstie, who discussed of the president’s tightrope act of aiming to reduce the deficit while expanding spending for health-care reform and energy.

Ydstie largely ignored military spending in the budget, both the $533.7 billion proposed for day-to-day military operations—a 4 percent increase over 2009—and a $130 billion “supplement” for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report uncritically accepted Budget Director Peter Orszag’s claim that the biggest deficit problem is that of entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Googling around, I found that military outlays were largely ignored in one report and editorial after another. It’s as if the military budget were invisible or accepted as a given. People will argue endlessly over whether it’s better to cut Medicare benefits or to end tax breaks for the rich, but few analyze or question the actual costs of the military to this country.

Fortunately, the National Priorities Project is taking a critical look at military spending. It calculates that the total cost of the military—including actions obscured elsewhere in the budget—was $1.169 trillion in 2008, almost three times the amount spent on health care, 10 times the amount spent on education, and 10 times the amount of Temporary Aid to Needy Families. It is not the old, sick, young and needy who are driving our national indebtedness.

Now there is a national and local movement to challenge, rein in, and redistribute the military budget. The campaign “Beyond War: A New Economy is Possible” has been launched nationally by United for Peace and Justice and is organized locally through the Chico Beyond War Coalition.

The coalition will hold a community forum Wednesday (March 18) at Café Culture. The date of March 18 is significant: the eve of the sixth anniversary of the start of war in Iraq.

The forum will open with recognition of the sacrifices and devastating losses that have been endured because of Iraq. Speakers will discuss the national budget, examining the cost of the military and its effect on our faltering economy. Community members will be invited to talk about their priorities for the use of their tax dollars, and the forum will present ways in which taxpayers can articulate their concerns and priorities.

Please attend this community forum to discuss ways to make our country and budget more attuned to human needs and less engaged in military excess. A new economy is possible.