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Mattea Kramer: A People’s Budget for Tax Day

6:30 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Close up of Washington's eye on dollar bill

Upset about how your tax dollars are spent? Even worse, it could be fixed.

Recently, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave a major speech at the National Defense University on cutting military — aka defense — spending.  Hagel is considered a “realist” and so when it comes to such cuts, this is undoubtedly the best we’re likely to get out of Washington for a long time to come.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the best is pretty poor stuff.

The speech was filled with the sort of complaints we’ve already grown used to hearing from the Pentagon about the “deep cuts… imposed by sequester.”  These, Hagel insisted, will result in “a significant reduction in military capabilities.”  (In fact, President Obama’s just released 2014 budget calls for only a miniscule 1.6% cut in the Pentagon’s bloated budget.)  There was also the usual boilerplate stuff about the U.S. global military stance — “America’s responsibilities are as enormous as they are humbling” — and about the “vacuum” we’d create on planet Earth if we reduced it in any way.  As the Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss wrote, “Nature may abhor a vacuum, but it isn’t the job of the United States to go stumbling into every regional conflict, humanitarian crisis, failed state, and would-be terrorist nest that arises. Whatever those things are, they’re not ‘vacuum’ to be filled.”

Like Leon Panetta before him, Hagel, who took a voluntary sequester pay cut, managed to make it sound as if the U.S. military were teetering at the edge of some financial cliff.  He spoke mournfully, for instance, of the Pentagon having “significantly less resources than the department had in the past.” Well… no, as Mark Thompson of Time magazine pointed out, it just ain’t so.

The facts aren’t difficult to sort out, even for those of us who aren’t secretaries of defense.  In a world filled with the most modest of enemies, after those “sequestration” and other planned cuts in the military budget are taken into account, the country would still be spending at levels that weren’t reached in the Cold War years when there were two overarmed superpowers on the planet.  As the Congressional Budget Office concluded last month, “In real terms, after the reduction in 2013, DoD’s base budget is about what it was in 2007, and is still 7% above the average funding since 1980.”

Among Hagel’s more accurate, if disheartening, comments was his praise for the way the U.S. military had, in the post-9/11 era, grown “more expeditionary.”  Back in the nineteenth century, that phrase would instantly have been recognized as code for “imperial” — for, that is, a great power exerting its muscle by policing the far frontiers of the planet.  In ending his speech, Hagel added definitively, “America does not have the luxury of retrenchment.”  So here’s a simple budget-cutting formula for you: if you can’t retrench and become less “expeditionary,” then significant cuts to the military, not to speak of the full-scale national security state, including the homeland-security complex and the intelligence-security complex, simply will not happen.  There’s only one way to cut the national security budget in a meaningful way: downsize the mission.

With tax day looming, we asked TomDispatch regular Mattea Kramer to get the number crunchers at the invaluable National Priorities Project to work on what a people’s budget might look like with genuine military cuts in a less imperial world.  Her answer: don’t underestimate the much-ignored wisdom of the American people on where their tax dollars should (but won’t) go. Tom

A Tax Day Plan for Righting the Republic 
Just Doing What’s Popular Would Make Us Healthier, Wealthier, Wiser, and Less Indebted 
By Mattea Kramer

After heroic feats of arithmetic and a your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine interpretation of opaque rules and guidelines, millions of Americans will file their taxes by this Monday, April 15th.

Then there’s the bad news.

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Mattea Kramer: Spinning Ourselves Into a Deficit Panic

6:45 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Money blowing away

Photo: 401K 2012 / Flickr

You couldn’t make this stuff up: thanks to Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and the power of “earmarks,” the Army has bought $6.5 million worth of “leakproof” drip pans “to catch transmission fluid on Black Hawk helicopters,” reports the New York Times.  Those pans were purchased from a company called Phoenix Products, whose owners, coincidentally, are contributors to the congressman’s political committee (and other Republican causes).  Oh, and according to the Times, “the company has paid at least $600,000 since 2005 to a Washington lobbying firm, Martin Fisher Thompson & Associates, to represent its interests on federal contracting issues.” Anyway, do the math and you end up with a $17,000 Army drip pan — and there’s one tiny catch: another company sells a comparable drip pan for about $2,500.

Is anybody shocked?  This, after all, is the world of the U.S. military, which has been right up there with the 1% this last decade when it comes to garnering and squandering riches. It’s been ever more flush, while the taxpayers whose dollars it’s been raking in have done ever less well.  And symbolic as those drip pans may be, they aren’t even a drip in the bucket of Pentagon expenses when you start looking at the big-ticket items.

Take the already notorious F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  Once billed as a low-cost solution to maintaining control of the global skies, it’s now in competition for first place in any most-expensive-jet-fighter-in-history contest.  (The present title-holder is the F-22, a $400 million plane whose pilots fear an oxygen malfunction every time they take off, and which “sat out” all Washington’s recent wars.)

The F-35’s price tag went up yet again recently, though only by a piddling $289 million, even as its production schedule continues to fall ever further behind.  As of now, the total cost for 2,457 of the aircraft is officially pegged at $395.7 billion, a jump of 75% over the original 2001 estimated price tag of $226.5 billion (for 2,866 planes).  That’s one heck of a lot of drip-pan equivalents — and no one believes that’s the final price, either.  Of the total cost of the plane to produce and operate, expert Winslow Wheeler writes, “The current appraisal for operations and support is $1.1 trillion — making for a grand total of $1.5 trillion, or more than the annual GDP of Spain. And that estimate is wildly optimistic.”

This is the sort of boondoggle that can’t be cut in Washington lest our safety be endangered, even as the country’s infrastructure decays, the jobs of police and teachers are cut, and the urge to savage the funds that go to the poor rises precipitously.  Consider that just a little background for the world of spending misinformation that TomDispatch regular Mattea Kramer, senior research analyst at the National Priorities Project and lead author of the new book, A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget, reminds us has wall-papered our world these last years. Tom

Four Spending Myths That Could Wreck Our World:
How Not to Solve an American Crisis

By Mattea Kramer

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