Over the last few months, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives engaged in an extortion scheme where the GOP threatened to destroy the U.S. economy by refusing to increase the federal debt ceiling and pay the nation’s bills unless Democrats agreed to draconian cuts to the nation’s social programs. While President Biden initially refused to negotiate with Republican “hostage-takers,” demanding a “clean” debt limit increase with no strings attached, talks to strike a deal soon followed.
Heeding Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s warning that failure to raise the debt ceiling by June 5 would result in “economic and financial catastrophe,” President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached a tentative agreement on May 28 that extends the debt limit for two years, but still requires congressional approval. The deal includes: two years of spending caps, additional work requirements for food stamp recipients and a decrease in IRS funding, totaling $136 billion in cuts of discretionary spending.
While the nation’s poor lost ground, the clear winner in the debt ceiling deal was the Pentagon, which will see a record high $886 billion budget, a 3.3 percent increase over the current year. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Lindsay Koshgarian, program director with the National Priorities Project, who discusses her group’s new report: “The Warfare State: How Funding for Militarism Compromises our Welfare,” underscoring the massive Pentagon budget’s outsize role in our national debate over federal priorities.
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: First, I want to acknowledge that, of course, all of this is a completely manufactured crisis. None of this had to happen. Republicans wanted to cut programs they didn’t like and they manufactured a threat through refusing to raise the debt ceiling that would threaten to give them what they want or they would tank the economy.
So that’s how we got here. But once they got to that place, the programs that they don’t like, of course, actually account for a relatively small portion of the discretionary budget that they’re looking to cap. So the discretionary budget this year in 2023 is $1.8 trillion overall. And military and militarism domestic account for more than 60 percent, 62 percent or $1.1 trillion out of that budget.
So they say they want to cut this piece of the pie because, you know, they say they’re worried about the debt. They say they’re worried about deficits, whatever it is. If they were really looking to cut that spending, it would only make sense for them to look at the largest portion of it and that is the military and then domestic militarism programs like border control, deportations and detentions, mass incarceration and law enforcement.
So most of those things, however, were not part of the settlement that Biden and the Republicans, The deal they struck that we’ve heard about, which, of course, has not yet passed Congress.
SCOTT HARRIS: While it’s true that the Republicans ignore the cuts that certainly could be made in this largest portion of the federal discretionary budget, it’s also true that Democrats stay away from that as well. Right? I mean, most Democrats in Congress shy away from seriously discussing cutting back the Pentagon budget. It only seems to go up. This deal, this tentative deal between Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy appears to allow for a 3.3 percent increase in the current year’s Pentagon budget.
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Like you said, the Pentagon budget only seems to go up year after year. And that’s true regardless of who’s in control of Congress and who’s in control in the White House. We actually have now the highest peacetime military budget on record and the end of the Afghanistan war, when the U.S. withdrew troops, was the first time on record when the U.S. ended a major military engagement and military spending went up instead of down.
Normally, you end a war, you can spend less on the military. You downsize some, you save some money. That is not what happened when the U.S. pulled the troops out of Afghanistan. Military spending actually went up. So it’s at a record high level right now, the highest on record during peacetime. And we can thank President Biden and the Democratically- controlled Congress for a lot of that.
So, yes, it’s absolutely a bipartisan problem. That said, the congressional Progressive Caucus and its leaders and many of the members have called out that problem and called out the growing military budget and the need to rebalance our discretionary budget priorities away from the military and toward domestic priorities. So there is a sizable contingent. We’ve had dozens of members of Congress sign on to support significant cuts to the military budget.
SCOTT HARRIS: Lindsay, just a final question. In this report, you point out that the true cost of military spending that this country is now engaged in is unsustainable and that this level of spending will eventually bankrupt the basic foundations of civil society. As we conclude here, just say a word about your long-range concerns here.
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Yeah, we really have a choice to make. You know, we’re having these sort of knockdown, drag out fights over things like student debt relief and whether we’ll have an extension of the child tax credit. That was a tax credit for families that cut child poverty nearly in half. And we’re losing a lot of these fights. And if we keep investing at the level that we are in militarization and war, we are going to keep losing those fights and we are going to end up with fewer and fewer of the bedrock foundation building blocks that we need for civilization.
We’re losing out on education. We’re losing out on child care. We’re losing out on health care. And a thriving modern society is not possible without any of those things. So we really have choices that we need to make here and we can’t have it both ways.
For more information on the National Priorities Project, visit nationalpriorities.org.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Lindsay Koshgarian (17:51) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
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