In Tuesday evening's generally well-received State of the Union speech, President Obama appealed to the center with talk of reducing the deficit and controlling federal spending. He had many good ideas about investing in education, innovation, and clean energy. But while all of that is important, one concrete proposal raises problems.
The president urged that annual domestic spending be frozen for the next five years, even though, as he noted, domestic spending is only about 12 percent of the budget (or about $400 billion per year). There are 44 million people still in poverty and the number is increasing. There are 14.5 million people unemployed and another 11.5 million working part-time because they can't find a full time job, or who have given up on looking for work. The U.S. population growth is about 2.5 million per year; five years from now there will 12.5 million additional people. A "freeze" in reality will mean drastic reductions in what will be necessary to meet the basic expenses of government and the needs of people. It has been said here before, but is worth saying again: Domestic spending is not the cause of our deficit.
The annual military budget, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is about $725 billion, $3 billion per week. Including the related costs of veterans benefits, other security-related spending, nuclear weapons spending, intelligence spending; the total exceeds $1 trillion per year. Yet all that was mentioned in the State of the Union about that was, "The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without." No specific cuts, not even a commitment to a freeze.
More than 40 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." With the trajectory we're on, we will be more than just approaching spiritual death in 2015 -- we'll be almost there. And proposals to cut government spending that do not include significant cuts in military spending are contributing to that death.
Duane Shank is senior policy advisor at Sojourners.