President Obama's 2011 budget, submitted to Congress this week, totals $3.8 trillion and projects a deficit of $1.6 trillion. And while analysts have had only two days to dissect the massive document, the president's priorities are clear: jobs and the military. The biggest problem he faces is the rapidly growing deficit.
With the economy still in recession and unemployment still at 10 percent, the domestic priority is clearly job creation. The budget includes a $100 billion jobs program, with substantial amounts targeted to tax breaks for small businesses in order to stimulate job creation. Also included are tax credits that assist lower-income workers with expenses such as child care, which make it more possible for them to find employment.
And despite the administration's plan to enact an overall freeze on discretionary domestic spending, it appears programs that focus on low-income and poor people were increased. Bob Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said in a statement on the budget that "Contrary to fears expressed last week that the President's proposed freeze on total non-security discretionary funding would provide inadequate support for education, for vulnerable Americans, and the like, the budget actually does well in these areas." It appears that major programs in nutrition, housing, education, TANF, etc. all are higher than last year.
But as usual, the sacred cow that cannot be touched is the military. First, a thanks to the administration for having the honesty to include the funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the budget, rather than waiting several months and then coming back with requests for supplemental funding as has been the practice in past years. Let's at least know up front what we're dealing with. In round numbers, the military budget includes an operating budget of $549 billion, plus funding for the two wars at $192 billion (including an already planned request for $33 billion this spring), for a total of $741 billion.
I, too, am concerned about the rapidly growing deficit. While some degree of deficit spending is necessary in a time of severe recession, it is growing so fast that it threatens our future and our children's futures. Last night, I ran into David Walker on the Amtrak train coming home from Philadelphia. We are both on book tours, and his new book is Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility. David and I had talked over the holidays, but now we had the chance to sit down and have a long train conversation about this topic. He is also concerned that the deficit not be cut on the backs of our poorest people and that the most vulnerable be protected. And he also thinks cutting excessive and wasteful military spending must be part of the solution. So here's a suggestion: Let's start with the military.
In a preliminary analysis of this budget, defense experts including Lawrence Korb (former assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan) said that:
A close analysis of the FY 2011 defense budget reveals that it does not go far enough to impose real fiscal discipline on our defense spending ... There are a number of reasonable cuts that could be made to this portion of the budget without sacrificing national security or undermining our troops.
The wars we have been fighting are a huge part of the massive deficit we now face, wars that I have also challenged on many other grounds. It's time to stop subsidizing the shameful profits of the "military industrial complex" that former President Eisenhower warned us about long ago. I personally would favor spending more on the returning veterans who are too often abandoned when their service is over. But cut the defense contractors who serve their own profits much more than any true idea of national security. Protect the veterans, cut the contractors. Now there is one way to attack the deficit.
We in the faith community say we subscribe to the biblical injunction to "beat our swords into plowshares." So let's be in the middle of the budget deficit debate and push hard for the right priorities. As David Walker and I agreed last night on the tracks between Philadelphia and DC, this is a moral question.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.
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