I'm a big fan of the idea that when someone dies or retires or simply moves on to another arena, one should remember them not with a gold watch or a piece of stone but by a push to advance a cause to increase justice on earth that's dear to their heart.
I'm not the only one who has this view. When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act -- "Obamacare" -- a lot of people's thoughts turned to Senator Ted Kennedy, because when Congress was struggling to pass the bill, a lot of people said: do it for Ted, this is a cause to which he devoted his life. "Now Teddy can rest," Nancy Pelosi said.
Some people might think this is cheesy. I wish to state for the record that I hold the opposite view. As an Argentine doctor once said, "Pick up this flag when I drop it."
What will be Barney Frank's legacy?
Frank is retiring from the House this year after 32 years of service. Obviously, he's worked on a lot of causes. But I think there is a strong case that in the cause of working to rein in America's excessive, unnecessary, out-of-control military spending, Frank has stood out from his colleagues, both in terms of advancing the issue in public debate, and in terms of reaching across the aisle to form bipartisan coalitions to push in the direction of sanity.
The issue of restraining military spending doesn't seize the passion of the multitude the way gay rights or health care for all does. Many find it technocratic, inside baseball. It doesn't seem like an existential cause.
But as our religious friends like to say, a budget is a moral document. If we're increasing military spending while we're cutting food stamps, we're saying that building more redundant ways to kill large numbers of people is more important to us than making sure that everyone has enough food to eat.
Right now, despite all the bloviating about the federal deficit, the House is on track to approve a 2013 Defense Appropriations Bill that would increase military spending over what it was last year, busting the spending caps of the Budget Control Act, spending more, even, than the Pentagon requested.
Barney Frank has teamed up with Republican Representative Mick Mulvaney [R-Tea Party] to try to do something about that. The Mulvaney-Frank Amendment would freeze 2013 military spending at the level of the 2012 fiscal year. That would amount to a $1.1 billion cut from the current level in the bill. If the Mulvaney-Frank amendment passes and nothing else happens, it would still be the case that military spending busts the Budget Control Act caps. But at least the military budget would not be increasing. And because of inflation, a freeze in nominal terms is a cut in real terms.
Compared to the overall military budget, the Mulvaney-Frank cut is a nick -- a fraction of a percent. But when you look at the cuts in domestic spending that the GOP leadership is pushing, $1.1 billion is real money.
You could argue that such a small nick in military spending wouldn't be much of a legacy for Barney Frank. In 2009 Frank called for cutting military spending by 25 percent from then-projected levels.
But you could also argue that it would be very appropriate, because Barney Frank is the quintessential Washington reformist liberal, someone who believes not only that "it's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness," but that if a candle can't be found, one should try to light a match.
The big prize this year is what will happen when Democrats and Republicans negotiate a package of revenue increases and spending cuts to replace the upcoming automatic cuts of the Budget Control Act. Some people want the cuts in that package to be all domestic. If the House can vote to cut military spending now, that will make it more likely that military cuts can replace domestic cuts in the big deal.
Want to contribute to Barney Frank's legacy? Ask your Representative to pass the Mulvaney-Frank amendment to freeze the military budget.
UPDATE: The Project On Government Oversight has organized a letter in support of the Mulvaney-Frank amendment. That letter is here.