Women Legislators' Lobby

Rep. Christine Greig & William D. Hartung: Candidates and budget: What do we value as a nation?

Rep. Christine Greig (MI)

Rep. Christine Greig (MI)

William D. Hartung

William D. Hartung

In less than a year’s time, one of the candidates in last week’s Michigan primary will take office as president of the United States. The new president’s first and most important responsibility will be to submit a budget to Congress.

A budget is more than just numbers on a page. It should reflect our values as a nation and address the needs in our states. In evaluating the candidates for your vote in November, voters should consider what kind of budget each candidate might propose, and what values that budget would reflect.

In the wake of recent terrorist attacks, most voters are rightly concerned with the safety of their families and their communities. With a Pentagon budget of over $600 billion per year, we have more than enough resources to confront the terrorist threat. The real problem is that we are spending tens of billions of dollars every year on programs that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism or addressing any other realistic threat to our nation.

We don’t need more spending at the Pentagon. We need more spending discipline.

A recent report by the Center for International Policy identified over $33 billion in waste in 27 separate Pentagon programs. Examples ranged from spending $8,000 on helicopter gears worth $500 to using government-issued credit cards to spend over $1 million at casinos and adult entertainment establishments. These may seem like small amounts by Pentagon standards, but when they are repeated over and over they add up to billions of dollars.

The most wasteful programs of all are enormously expensive weapons programs, like the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive weapons program undertaken by the Pentagon, which has been plagued with cost overruns, performance problems, and schedule delays. The Pentagon plans to spend $1 trillion over the next three decades to build a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, missiles, and submarines. These are useless in fighting ISIS or any other terrorist group. Our ultimate goal should be to construct a global plan to get rid of these deadly weapons, not to build more of them.

Tightening up Pentagon buying practices and making better choices about what weapons systems we need could free up tens of billions of dollars every year.

One important step forward would be to give the Pentagon financial incentives to get its books in order. The Pentagon is the only major agency that can’t pass a simple audit. As a result, it doesn’t know exactly how much equipment it has, or how many contractors it employs, or whether it is getting a fair price for the items it purchases. This situation is an invitation to fraud, waste, and abuse.

Bipartisan bills have been proposed in both houses in Congress to press the Pentagon to make its books audit ready as soon as possible. But the ultimate responsibility lies with the president. Candidates for the highest office in the land should be asked whether they would make cleaning up the Pentagon’s financial practices a top priority.

Putting the Pentagon on a real budget would free up funds for other urgent priorities that can make our nation more secure and more prosperous. Investments in bridges, roads, transit systems, affordable housing, and clean water supplies are critically needed in Michigan and across the country. Ensuring that our water systems are not harming the health of our citizens is particularly important here in Michigan, but it is an urgent priority in other parts of the country as well.

Another priority for federal funding should be education. Spending on education will sow the seeds of future economic growth while preparing our children to take their place as well-informed citizens of our democracy. Our strength as a nation is grounded in a healthy, well-educated population. Spending more in this area is one of the best investments we can make in the security of our nation.

As the presidential campaign moves forward, every candidate should put forward a detailed outline of what investments they plan to make in our future, and how they will pay for them. Only then can we craft a budget that reflects our basic values.

Christine Greig represents Michigan’s 37th district and is a member of the Women Legislators’ Lobby, a program of Women’s Action for New Directions. William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

Originally published on March 17, 2016 by Hometown Life.

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