Shift Budget Priorities
Friends Committee on National
Washington Newsletter, July /
The federal budget should be a reflection
of our most basic values as a nation, but is it? Are the President
and Congress providing enough resources in the right ways to advance
security, peace, human development, equity, justice, and the common
good? Are they making sure that the government will have what
it needs to meet future challenges? Are they distributing the
tax burden and benefits fairly within society? Are they being
good stewards of the nation's resources?
The U.S. is spending almost $5 billion
per month fighting still smoldering wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-wars
that have killed and wounded thousands and displaced many more,
yet have done little to make anyone more secure. The President
seeks to spend more than $2.7 trillion over the next five years
to advance global U.S. military dominance. Congress has recently
enacted tax cuts, primarily benefiting the wealthiest, which could
reduce revenues $2 trillion or more in the next decade. Yet, in
his 2004 budget request, the President proposed spending only
$321 million to help rebuild war-ravaged Afghanistan and only
$200 million to support the UN Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS,
Malaria, and Tuberculosis.
These budget priorities are set against
a backdrop of growing challenges and unmet human needs. Ecosystems,
fresh water supplies, fisheries, forests, and air quality around
the world are being severely degraded by human activities. In
the last decade, human development indicators declined in fourteen
countries in Africa. In the U.S., the official unemployment rate
is up to 6.4 percent, and, unofficially, it is much higher. Most
state governments are on the verge of bankruptcy. Many are cutting
funding for education, child care, health care, aid to the poor,
public safety, and other vital services.
Yet, thanks in large part to the tax cuts,
wars, and run-away military spending, there is not enough left
in the budget to address these challenges adequately. The U.S.
is already facing record-setting budget deficits as far as the
eye can see. To make matters worse, a fiscal train wreck is looming
on the horizon when the 77 million baby-boomers begin retiring,
doubling the number of retired persons by 2030. This will bankrupt
Social Security, Medicare, and the rest of the government if Congress
does not act soon.
How should federal budget priorities be
* Stop waging war. Cut military spending.
Bring U.S. troops home (except those serving in UN peacekeeping
missions). Shut down U.S. nuclear weapons programs and dismantle
the nuclear arsenal. End the ballistic missile defense program.
Stop building new fighters, aircraft carriers, destroyers, and
submarines for which there are no foes. Stop giving weapons and
training to oppressive regimes. This could save over $100 billion
* Raise revenues to meet national needs
with a more progressive tax structure. Freeze income tax rates
and brackets at 2002 levels, freeze the estate and gift tax at
2003 levels, and restore capital gains and dividend taxes to 2002
levels. This could restore more than $500 billion revenue over
* Extend the life of the Social Security
and Medicare trust funds. Apply current payroll taxes to incomes
above the current maximum taxable amount of $87,000. This would
raise more than $1 trillion over the next ten years.
* Invest in human development. Eliminate
poverty. Provide universal health care. Build new schools and
health clinics. Train and hire more doctors, nurses, teachers,
and child care providers to work in under-served areas at home
and abroad. Fulfill trust obligations to Native Americans. Triple
international development aid and redirect it toward the poorest
countries. Dramatically increase funding to the UN to slow the
HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB epidemics. Apply the $100 billion per
year saved from the military to these priorities.
Shifting federal budget priorities in
these ways will do far more to advance lasting security, human
development, and the common good than the priorities reflected
in the current federal budget. The choice is ours to make.