In this new era of austerity, it was disappointing to learn that Congress is considering spending billions of dollars on a Cold War relic with little value to our security needs of the 21st century. Even worse, this money is desperately needed by our active duty service members.
The National Defense Authorization Act, now under consideration by the House, would allocate $581 million to upgrade tactical nuclear bombs, based in Europe. The full price for these B61 nuclear gravity bombs could cost the United States approximately $650 million this year -- $11.9 billion for the total program.
First, it goes without saying that nations such as Belgium and the Netherlands, which would host these nuclear bombs, are important allies of the United States. But it also goes without saying that none of these nations face a threat from the defunct Soviet Union and haven't for over 20 years. It is debatable as to whether these weapons even need an upgrade in technology. What is not debatable is that they protect Europe from nothing.
Further, we must consider what is getting cut to pay for this global boondoggle.
Consider, for a moment, that active duty troops and their families used over $100 million in Food Stamps, in 2011. Unfortunately, the Senate decided to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $4.1 billion, just last month. At the same time, Congress is considering plans to cap military pay raises, holding them at 1 percent increases in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016. Yes, every penny matters to a family trying to make ends meet -- but what is clear is that we are not paying our troops nearly enough, and these pay raise caps won't help those who have turned to food stamps.
Yet, for the cost of the upgrade this year alone, the U.S. could avoid cutting back pay raises for our troops and still have money to spare. Down the road, we can use savings to not just pay our troops what they deserve, but to alleviate sequestration cuts that affect the services provided to our troops and veterans -- services that they have earned through their sacrifice.
That's why, yesterday, over 45 veterans from VoteVets.org in Washington State, penned a letter to Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Adam Smith, urging them to reject funding these unneeded nuclear weapons.
Troops and veterans understand that, at a time when the budget is stretched to the breaking point because of poor decisions like the sequester, choices need to be made. If the choice is between taking care of our troops and veterans or protecting Europe from a ghost, it should be an easy choice to make.
Whether Congress sees it the same way remains to be seen. Shame on them if they decide to fund unnecessary and expensive nuclear bombs, but leave our troops and veterans out in the cold because they claim we don't have the money to care for them.