Shift Budget Priorities

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Washington Newsletter, July / August 2003


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 shifted?

* 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 per year.

* 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 ten years.

* 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.

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