The military busts the 2003 federal budget
by Frida Berrigan
In These Times magazine, March 2002
Clad in a leather bomber jacket and surrounded by the weapons
of the war on terrorism, President Bush was certainly trying to
link his new budget to the fight against the "axis of evil."
At the Elgin Air Force base in Florida on February 4th, he announced
his request for a $48 billion increase in military spending, the
largest in almost two decades.
If Bush has his way, the total budget for military spending
in 2003-including military functions of the Coast Guard and the
Department of Energy- will reach $396 billion, an $87 billion
increase from when he took office in January 2001.
Standing against a backdrop of F-15 and F- 16 fighter planes,
an A- 10 warthog, and a huge American flag, Bush argued that the
United States needs new military spending to address new threats
and a new security environment. "It is very clear that the
defense budget is cheap when one compares it to putting our security
at risk, our lives at risk, our country at risk, our freedoms
at risk," Bush said. But his rhetoric ignores the fact that
this new military spending spree has little to do with fighting
the war on terrorism.
About one-third of the $68 billion allocated for weapons procurement
in the new budget proposal would pay for Cold War systems with
no relevance to the current war or future conflicts being imagined
by war planners. This includes an additional $12 billion to fund
three new fighter plane programs: the Joint Strike Fighter, F-22
and Super Hornet. On the campaign trail, Bush repeatedly said
that the U.S. could not afford and did not need all three systems.
The 70-ton Crusader artillery system, despite being designed
to fight land battles against the Soviet Union, too would be fully
funded at $475.2 million. These and other Cold War relics are
slated to receive $21.2 billion in the fiscal year 2003 budget.
The Bush administration's proposed increase alone is larger than
the entire military budget of every other country in the world
except Russia, which spends about $60 billion on the military
Bush's new budget is a four-volume tome printed on heavy glossy
paper. The cover is a picture of the American flag, and the pages
are full of photographs and charts. In language clearly drafted
before the Enron scandal hit the front page, the budget calls
on government to emulate the efficiency of the private sector,
saying, "dollars will go to programs that work, those programs
that don't work will be reformed."
What works and what doesn't can depend on where you are sitting.
Jesse McDonnell and other high school students at the Youth
Opportunity Center in Portland, Oregon probably thought their
program was working pretty well. President Bush even told them
so. On a West Coast jaunt in early January, Bush dropped in on
the center that provides job training to about 1,400 students
in one of Portland's poorest neighborhoods. He praised "the
good instructors" there for "helping people help themselves."
Bush's new budget slashes $545 million from job training programs
around the country. For the Youth Opportunity Center, that is
likely to mean 80 percent cuts in funding and maybe the end of
the program. McDonnell was stunned when he heard about the cuts.
"I was like, 'How could you come visit here if you're going
to do that?"'
A Bush administration official defended the cuts, saying the
aim was to get rid of "duplicative services" and support
proven programs like the Job Corps. But job-training programs
such as the Youth Opportunity Center are only two years old, and
program backers say it is too soon to gauge their overall impact.
The center's executive director, Antoinette Edwards, says, "Given
the time we've had, it feels as though we're about to have the
plug snatched out. We feel like we're onto something big."
It's not just job training that Bush seems to think "doesn't
work." The White House's budget proposes cuts at the Justice
and Labor departments and appropriates no new money for Commerce,
Agriculture or the Interior. Moreover, proposed increases in the
budgets for education, the environment and space exploration do
not reach the rate of inflation.
But the Pentagon wants even more money. The ink was barely
dry on the White House proposal when the Pentagon began preparing
its case that the $48 billion increase over last year's allocation
is not enough money. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, addressed Congress the next day to call for increased
spending of more than $100 billion a year "for several years."
Can we really afford that?"
Frida Berrigan is a senior research associate with the World
Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center.
Military Budget watch