Co-authored with: Josh Hoxie is the Director of the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies, IPS-dc.org.
The United States spends about $600 billion on Defense per year, more than twice as much as the world's other top spenders -- China, Russia, and the United Kingdom -- combined. The number practically doubles to $1 trillion if you factor in our entire national security apparatus.
Despite these staggering figures, this year's budget showdown in Congress featured House Republicans clashing over whether the Pentagon should be exempted from legally required deficit control measures. This narrow debate speaks to the growing divide between the needs of the American people and the priorities of the Republican majority in Congress.
Apparently unimportant to the House Majority is the potentially devastating impact of their budget resolution on everyday people -- the $4.5 trillion in cuts to domestic spending on which many Americans deeply depend, including food stamp programs, Pell Grants, Head Start, and Medicaid. The GOP budget will literally take food out of the mouths of infants, refuse preschoolers early education, deny aspirant young people the chance to go to college, and block medical care for the elderly and infirm.
But that's not all. While congressional Republicans claim to be deeply concerned about funding for our national security, they are actively enabling one of the greatest threats to our long-term safety -- our rapidly warming planet. Beyond just denying the fact that climate change exists, public resources, like the U.S. military, are being exploited to help corporations profit from it.
The latest studies show that Arctic Sea ice is at its lowest point ever recorded. And the scientific community has reached near consensus that such melting will elevate sea levels to dangerous highs. But the melting of Arctic ice will also open lucrative trade routes and expose vast and valuable reserves of hydrocarbon deposits -- believed to hold some 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of its untapped natural gas, according to Al-Jazeera. Already, fossil fuel companies are fiercely competing for rights to the deposits in what's been called "a second Middle East" of the oil trade.
It's a fitting analogy. Instead of budgeting funds to reverse the destructive trend of climate change, the U.S. government has decided to treat the Arctic just like it treats the Middle East -- by fortifying its military and exploiting the region's natural resources. Just last month, as Republicans penned talking points on the necessity of increased Defense spending, the U.S. Army sponsored an international summit on Arctic and mountain warfare at its Northern Warfare Training Center in Alaska. The Training Center schools soldiers in the art of subzero warfare, ostensibly for launching rescue missions in the Arctic and fighting in other cold regions.
But there's obviously more at stake. U.S. soldiers funded by taxpayer dollars being trained to guard an impending oil and gas rush in the Arctic -- a new frontier being pried open by climate change. A frontier that threatens to displace local populations and species, and spur potentially violent conflict over the rich resources of the region.
It wouldn't be the first time that public resources, including our military, have been deployed for war profiteering, especially by energy companies. Nonetheless, watching Republicans squabble over whether to add an extra $38 billion to an already massive Defense budget -- it's striking how far removed it all is from the struggles of everyday people.
With one in five children living in poverty and half of all families unable to afford basic housing, aren't there better ways to spend our common reserve?
Some members of Congress are trying to offer more socially and environmentally sound alternatives. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, for example, proposed The Peoples Budget: A Raise for America, which would check defense spending, and address the threat of climate change by taxing carbon. Additional legislation aimed at generating revenue and disincentivizing war -- a "war tax" -- was offered by Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
It bears reminding that despite the incredible distance between congressional budgeters in Washington and the plight of everyday people, the federal budget remains a public resource -- and a reflection of America's priorities as a nation. The U.S needs a "peoples' budget" that's rooted in the material needs of the country's war-tired populace, not one that panders to corporate interests, and further degrades the vitality of the planet.