Tucson Progressive

Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona

Misplaced Congressional Priorities: Pork for the Pentagon but Not for Children

pentagon-moneyDuring the Bush II Era, excessive deficit spending was no big deal for Republicans. Congressional Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, John McCain, Jeff Flake, Lindsay Graham, and even current “budget hawk” Paul Ryan “spent money like drunken sailors”– particularly when the spending benefited the 1% (remember the tax cuts we couldn’t afford?) or corporations (two wars, Medicare Advantage, off-shoring jobs, more tax cuts, privatization, etc.)

But as soon as a Democratic President occupied the White House, the siren song became: We must tighten our belts and live within our means! Cut government jobs…er… spending! Cut Social Security… er… “entitlements”! 

This austerity screed intensified after the Democratic “shellacking” in 2010 when Teapublicans took control of the House of Representatives and the budget, and Senate Teapublicans began playing games with people’s lives by filibustering everything. (No wonder Congress has a 16% approval rating.)

For the past few months, Congress has been weighing the pros and cons of budget cuts and pork barrel projects. Food stamps and schools lunches are on the chopping block, while the Congress considers passing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, which authorizes $640 billion more in defense spending than the Pentagon asked for. (This action was passed by the House Armed Services committee last week; the full vote in the House of Representatives is scheduled for today– Wednesday, June 12.) Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) is calling on Americans nationwide to call their representatives and ask them to support amendments to audit and tighten the Pentagon budget (while protecting healthcare and other programs for troops and veterans), rein in the lethal drone program, and end the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that gave a green light to the past decade of endless warfare.

Even some conservatives believe that the Pentagon budget could be cut— safely. Defending America, Defending Taxpayers recently released a report detailing 100 specific recommendations for cuts to the Department of Defense (DoD) budget—the nation’s largest agency. The cuts total more than $1.8 trillion. So, why do Republican “budget hawks” want to give the Pentagon billions more than they asked for?

Increases in defense spending are particularly heinous when Congress is poised to inflict more economic pain on American citizens with cuts to education and social safety net programs. The most recent target for budget cuts are the food stamp program and school lunches– poverty-related programs included in the Farm Bill. Progressives are asking: Why not end hunger, rather than force it on more poor children? The House version of the Farm Bill cuts $20 billion from food stamps, while the Senate version cuts $4 billion.

Due to the Great Recession and the proliferation of low-wage jobs available during the “recovery”, the number of Americans using food stamps has increased 70%. More Americans than ever need the food stamp program, according to an article in In These Times.

More from In These Times

At this stage, it will likely be difficult to prevent any cuts from taking place. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who has emerged as one of the most vocal opponents of the cuts in Congress, conceded that “the odds are against us.” McGovern has co-authored an amendment to restore funding to SNAP, which has garnered the support of over 130 Democrats in the House so far.

In an interview with In These Times, McGovern blamed the Republican Party’s hostility toward social spending and general ignorance of the issues facing low-income people for the severity of the cuts. But he also expressed frustration with members of his own party for failing to speak out on the issue. “If the Democratic Party doesn’t stand with the poor and the vulnerable then I don’t know what the hell we stand for,” McGovern said.

Neither House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nor House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have signed on to the amendment calling to restore SNAP funding.

“There’s this view that there’s no political consequence, if you cut programs to hurt poor people, then you won’t lose an election,” McGovern said. “Whereas if you overturn a tax cut or if you vote against a trade agreement or vote against the gun lobby, there’s a political consequence. I think many of my colleagues are gambling that if they vote to chip away at the safety net in this country, then nobody will notice, nobody will care, [and] that they won’t lose their election.”

While the response to SNAP cuts in Washington has so far been limited, opponents of the cuts are planning on ramping up their pressure on Congress in the coming weeks.

Twenty-six members of Congress, including McGovern, have pledged to live on a SNAP budget between June 13 and 19. They will be joined by representatives from an array of anti-poverty organizations, like the Food Research and Action Center, NeighborWorks America, the American Association of Retired Persons and religious groups.  Meanwhile, on June 17, the earliest date that the House could take up the farm bill, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) will hold a series of demonstrations across the country calling on influential Democratic members of Congress to prevent the cuts from taking place. PDA is holding actions at the district offices of Pelosi, Hoyer, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). [Emphasis added.]

Call your Congressional representative today and urge them to vote with the people and not the military industrial complex. Cut the Pentagon budget– don’t increase it by billions.

Stay tuned for information on how you can become more involved in PDA’s street heat campaign, mentioned above. There will be letter drops at Congressional offices in Arizona next week.


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The Tucson Progressive: Pamela J. Powers

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals–not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election.

My platform focused on economic reforms to grow Arizona’s economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, grow local small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs.

In the Arizona House, I was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility a moratorium on corporate tax breaks until the schools were fully funded, increased cash assistance to the poor, expansion of maternal healthcare benefits, equal rights, choice, unions, education at all levels and protecting our water supply.

After three terms, I retired from the Arizona Legislature in January 2023 but will continue to blog and produce my podcast “A View from the Left Side.”

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