What would you rather see your tax dollars fund? Food stamps for 46 million Americans? Or wars we don't need?
The choice for most of us is clear. When asked, "What would you cut if you have to," Americans chose cuts in military spending over cuts in Social Security or Medicare -- three to one.
But poll Congress and you get different answers. On May 7 the House Budget Committee voted to slash the food stamp program and cut Medicaid so the Pentagon can keep pouring money into useless wars and unnecessary weapons. Let's see what this means in human terms.
Half of the 46 million Americans who rely on food stamps are children. According to the Coalition on Human Needs, two million people -- mostly seniors and working families with children -- will lose their food stamps completely. Over a quarter million of the children will also lose free school lunches. Employment and training programs for food stamp recipients will be cut 72 percent. Working adults will also lose childcare and transportation subsidies that they need to get to work.
We're not done with children. GOP leaders want to deny child tax credits to low-income immigrant families who use taxpayer ID numbers instead of Social Security numbers when they file tax returns. This is known as punishing people for paying their taxes. Families who make only $21,000 a year will have to pay $1,800 more.
Actually, children seem to be a target in this campaign to keep Pentagon dollars flowing. Millions of families with children will also lose health coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program. Childcare and children who are abused will also lose funding, as will senior anti-abuse programs and elder Meals on Wheels.
In the Budget Committee's moral universe, military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing (tax bill on profits of $9 billion: negative $178 million, meaning we gave Boeing our tax money) are more deserving than families who lost their jobs in the Wall Street bonfire three years ago, lost their homes in the bank scams that caused it, or children whose one square meal a day will soon be a school lunch -- if Congress doesn't cut that too.
How do they justify these cuts? In extremely vague language, one thing they're saying is that that we have to protect military personnel and their families. Ask your pastor, minister, rabbi or imam about the morality of sacrificing one set of people to benefit another. Beyond that, it's the Pentagon brass, not liberals or peaceniks, who are trying to cut healthcare benefits and other military family supports. Like any big corporation, they're taking savings out of their workforce.
Here's another vague justification: any cuts would "hollow out the national defense."
It's true, as Capitol Hill hawks repeat, that Air Force pilots are flying 20-year-old F-16 fighters. But that's because the F-22 -- the replacement Pentagon planners ordered over a decade ago --- is so dangerous that some pilots are refusing to fly it. It may already have killed one pilot by cutting off his oxygen supply. The even newer and more expensive F-35 is "overweight, overpriced, underperforming, and unnecessary," says defense critic William Hartung. In fact, it's so overpriced -- $380 billion for 2400 planes, not counting future maintenance and operating costs of $1 trillion -- that cutting this turkey alone would provide the $300 billion that the House Budget Committee is trying to save by slashing safety net programs. If the House Budget Committee is looking for waste in government, the Pentagon is the place to start.
The Pentagon's problem isn't lack of money. The problem is that weapons spending is out of control and no amount of money will fix that. A stiff diet might help focus them, though. Fewer dollars would still provide plenty of money for the "Defense" Department's real mission: actually defending us.
No country on earth comes close to the United States in military firepower. And few countries can match the callousness of the House leaders who would sacrifice children's meals so they can build useless weapons.
America's soul is on the line this week. Call your Representative this week and ask how he or she will vote on the budget bills that are coming up -- the reconciliation bill this week and the deficit reduction bill next week. The answer you get will tell you if our soul is in the right hands.
Blum is executive director of USAction, a federation of 22 state affiliates that organize for a more just America. USAction and its state partners build broad coalitions to win progressive campaigns that enrich people's lives.