Before I talk about off-budget spending on wars and America's defense budget, I would like to make it clear that discussing military expenditures should not be viewed as a partisan issue. Forget about Republicans versus Democrats. Forget about Left Wing versus Right Wing, Liberal versus Conservative. Start thinking in terms of an American Empire. Once you make this shift, everything becomes clear.
There is no serious debate in the United States about fighting or withdrawing from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Back in the day, during the Cold War and the Vietnam War, these were serious issues. Not anymore. Our Imperial Wars are taken for granted. Thus Alan Grayson's (D, Fl) introduction of The War Is Making You Poor Act (HR 5353) last week was pure theater. He is lampooning the Empire, sticking it to The Man. Grayson is among a handful of people in the Congress (including Texas congressman Ron Paul) who get it.
What George Orwell wrote about in 1984 has come true. What Eisenhower warned us about concerning the "military-industrial complex" has come true. War is a permanent feature of our societal landscape, so much so that no one notices it anymore.
But we're going to change this. Today, we're introducing a bill called The War Is Making You Poor Act. The purpose of this bill is to connect the dots, and to show people in a real and concrete way the cost of these endless wars.
Next year's budget allocates $159,000,000,000 to perpetuate the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. That's enough money to eliminate federal income taxes for the first $35,000 of every American's income. Beyond that, [it] leaves over $15 billion to cut the deficit.
And that's what this bill does. It eliminates separate funding for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and eliminates federal income taxes for everyone's first $35,000 of income ($70,000 for couples). Plus it pays down the national debt.
The costs of the war have been rendered invisible. There's no draft. Instead, we take the most vulnerable elements of our population, and give them a choice between unemployment and missile fodder. Government deficits conceal the need to pay in cash for the war...
[My note: We will charge much of that $159 billion to our Bank of China Visa card to pay for the wars in budget year 2011 (see the video below).]
HR 5353 will never come up for a floor vote, but Alan Grayson knows that. He's making futile but beautiful gesture. Let's look at that last sentence—government deficits conceal the need to pay in cash for the war. The wars are paid for off-budget, meaning that war expenditures are not part of the regular Defense budget. This note is from Josh Rogin's Obama's promise for honest war budgeting not kept—
January 13, 2010 — The administration came in promising not only to curb the drastic rise in military spending since 2001 but also to account for war spending transparently and on budget. Shortly after taking office, the White House requested $537 billion for the Pentagon as well as $128 billion for the wars in 2010, but stated in its budget documents that war funding is expected to go down to $50 billion for each year afterwards.
Well, so much for that. In addition to another $33 billion the administration will ask for in 2010 money to pay for the Afghanistan surge, the White House is seeking $159 billion for war operations in the 2011 budget request, according to this AP story. So the Obama team was only off by about $110 billion. What's more, the total $708 billion Pentagon request for 2011 would give about $549 billion for regular military operations, the largest total in history. Although to be fair, that's only about a 2 percent increase, which roughly matches the rate of inflation.
The off-budget war expenditures (includes the surge, $159 billion) + regular Defense outlays ($549 billion) = $708 billion, which is about 5% of 2009 nominal GDP. If that doesn't sound like much to you, look at this chart.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. can not afford any more wars (e.g. with Iran). We've maxed out our Bank of China Visa card. As you know, credit is tight and getting tighter worldwide. Gates said that the Pentagon had habitually overstated what warships, aircraft and vehicles it needed in the post-Cold War world. "Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?"
The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan topped $1,000,000,000,000 (trillion) in January of this year. A 2007 study the Congressional Budget Office put the potential long-term cost at $2.4 trillion. I love this quote—
"The number is so big, it boggles the mind," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.
As you know, Rahm Emanuel is currently Barack Obama's chief of staff, but the Republican W was president in 2007. Now that he's in the White House, Rahm's mind is no longer boggled.
In short, denizens of our Imperial Capital require foreign wars and disproportionately huge Defense spending to demonstrate our resolve & power—We are the Empire, that's what Empires do, right? Unfortunately these Beltway Bandits can no longer afford additional projections of our Imperial Will & Might onto the world stage.
Cynics (realists?) will say that future wars are assured whether we can pay for them or not, especially because of our diminished capacity to run a sound economy, provide a social safety net, etc. I'm not so sure, but it does seem likely that a Dying Empire (spending almost as much on its military as the rest of the world combined) will lash out at others before succumbing to decay & collapse. Being in Decline doesn't mean we can't still do a hell of lot of damage before we fade away.
I'll leave that debate to you. Here's Alan Grayson's futile but beautiful gesture.
$549 billion is plenty, especially when we're using a Chinese credit card to pay for it