Gradually, Ohio residents are awakening to the headlines: Automatic spending cuts, known inside the Beltway as “the sequester,” are now a reality. We don’t yet know how deeply these cuts will affect the things Americans depend on most — but experts tell us we could soon feel the cuts when it comes to air travel, food inspection, federal dollars paying a portion of our local teachers’ salaries and important programs like Head Start and nutrition assistance for women and young children.
But what if there is a better way?
Let’s review. For every tax dollar we give to the federal government, nearly 30 cents goes to the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s budget this year is $650 billion. It has increased 13 years in a row, and it’s 48 percent larger than it was a decade ago.
Now let us consider Ohio’s share of the Pentagon budget. According to a new report issued by the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan organization that helps Americans understand and influence how their dollars are spent, Ohio taxpayers this year will spend $29.4 billion on the Pentagon — that’s their share of tax dollars to keep the Pentagon afloat.
How much is $29.4 billion to Ohio taxpayers? For this amount of money, we could:
Pay the salaries of 39,461 elementary school teachers for one year. Extend Pell Grants to 481,818 college students. Provide 1,427,273 low-income children with health care. Cover 390,909 Head Start slots for kids. Make sure 327,273 of our hard-sacrificing military veterans have VA medical care. Cover the costs of 39,929 law-enforcement officers.
This is not an alphabet soup of choices — the amount of Ohio tax dollars sent to Washington, D.C., to pay for Pentagon spending would cover all of the above — with money left over.
Now at this point, a reasonable person might ask, doesn’t cutting Pentagon spending mean a weaker military?
No. Actually, military experts tell us our armed forces will be stronger if we force ourselves to think strategically. Some military brass may view the sequester as a crisis — but it’s also an opportunity for Congress to seriously assess the Pentagon’s strategic choices and budgetary needs based on a careful exploration of our priorities.
And what are our priorities? Priority one might be to make greater investments in special operations forces for counter terrorism, instead of occupying entire countries. Priority two might be putting less emphasis on huge fleets of expensive aircraft like the F-35 (the most expensive weapons system in our history) and more emphasis on cost-effective, next-generation long-range missiles. Priority three might be greater investment in cyber capabilities to protect cyberspace and maintain informational superiority over future threats like China.
Recent polls show that both Democrats and Republicans think Pentagon spending should be responsibly reined in, and both Democrats and Republicans prefer cuts in this area to cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security.
So what are we waiting for? And what must be overcome?
Today, 53 years after outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warned of a “permanent armaments industry of vast proportions,” we must overcome the power of military contractor CEOs and their lobbyists.
We must recognize that a new set of priorities commands us to invest in domestic concerns such as jobs, education and health care, and nation-building at home trumps nation-building abroad.
We must recognize that strength and respect abroad is built, and based, on economic strength at home.
We must recognize that it is not the size of government that is at issue but who government works for — CEOs and lobbyists or working families and the middle class.
Robert F. Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat, represents the 58th Ohio House District.