A family with a shocking arsenal of shotguns, handguns, Uzis and grenades falls on hard times -- and decides to spend less on food, medicine, heating oil and home repairs so that it can further beef up its store of weapons to prevent a break-in.
This is not the storyline of the latest reality television show. It's an analogy for the U.S. budget.
This week, the Obama Administration released a federal budget proposal which takes steps to reduce the federal deficit by freezing domestic discretionary spending -- the parts of the federal budget that address our basic human needs and build fundamental security. Yet it placed no cap on military spending, which makes up the lion's share of the discretionary budget -- reaching funding levels far greater than that of all potential U.S. adversaries combined, including China.
With less than 5 percent of the world's population, we are responsible for nearly half of the military spending on the planet. This backward calculation defies all logic.
The U.S. spends well over half its annual discretionary budget on the military. Yet even after years of disproportionate military investments our fears demand more. This week the Administration requested $548.9 billion for the base military budget in FY 2011, a 3.4 percent increase over the 2010 enacted level. In addition the White House is seeking $159.3 billion in additional war funding for FY 2011. Add in the explicit areas of military spending contained in the Department of Energy and international affairs budgets and you reach $743.6 billion - an astounding three-quarter trillion dollars.
Even if that "investment" becomes law, we will still be afraid. As a nation we have become obsessed with military "security." We feed our anxieties with irrational actions: acquisition of outdated weapons systems, a network of unnecessary overseas bases, and waste-and-abuse-ridden Pentagon spending that fundamentally fails to provide real security for our nation or well-being for our troops.
We need to treat whatever underlying condition has made us confuse boundless military might with real, human security before we bankrupt our country, and make the world an even more dangerous place for our children to live out their lives.
Don't look to Congress to lead the change in U.S. spending on the military. With a few brave exceptions, most of our representatives in Washington enable this dysfunctional system, and the media meets their activity with a yawn. Last year, the Administration's attempt to increase the military budget was met with cries of foul from Capitol Hill -- not for continuing unsustainable bloat, but for cutting production of a very few outdated weapons systems that even the Department of Defense wanted to cut. The big media story was that Obama was proposing big cuts in defense spending -- yet this so called "cut" actually increased funding by $9 billion above inflation.
The Obama Administration says its new budget is "changing the way Washington works... by ending programs that don't work, streamlining those that do, cracking down on special interest access, and bringing a new responsibility to how tax dollars are spent."
Yet the part of the budget where abuse is most unchecked and the potential deficit-reducing savings are greatest is strangely off-limits.
If this is what budget change looks like, it's going to be a long, long road to recovery.