After the Pentagon had flunked yet another audit, Senator Chuck Grassley expressed his frustration with the “enormous and unaccountable” Pentagon budget. He made the case that it is “in our national interest to prevent defense dollars from getting gobbled up by waste, fraud, and abuse.”
He’s right – it's unconscionable that the Pentagon is unable to account for taxpayer dollars. This is especially true in the midst of a pandemic, as we see that our investments in the Pentagon have come at a huge cost to our public health systems.
According to the Des Moines Register, over 35,000 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, and nearly 750 Iowans are among the 130,000 who’ve died nationally from the disease. That’s higher than all Americans killed in all U.S. wars since the Korean War.
Senator Grassley, Senator Ernst, and all Iowans in Congress have the responsibility to do something about this. They can begin by supporting an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would redirect ten percent of the Pentagon budget toward human needs. That amounts to about $74 billion out of a total Pentagon budget of $741 billion in 2021.
Such a reinvestment is long overdue. Since 9/11, the U.S. has wasted $6.4 trillion in war and overseas military bases. Since President Trump took office, the Pentagon budget has grown by $100 billion, over 20 percent.
The Pentagon budget now exceeds the military spending of the next nine closest countries combined, with nearly half going directly into the pockets of military contractors.
Enough of this already.
We need a massive reinvestment in jobs, health care, housing, education, student debt cancellation, climate mitigation and environmental protection. With over 50 million Americans having filed for unemployment and 28 million facing homelessness, we need a new budget that reflects our compassion for all rather than corporate greed for the few.
According to the National Priorities Project, redirecting ten percent of the Pentagon’s budget could pay for:
• Over five million monthly relief payments of $1200, or
• 2.4 million hospital stays for COVID-19 patients for one year, or
• 900,000 elementary school teachers, or
• Nearly one million clean energy jobs, or
• Health care for over 30 million low-income children.
The Pentagon budget is nearly 90 times that of the Centers for Disease Control. Ask any Iowan if that makes any sense, or what the biggest threats are to our health and long-term wellbeing. The last time I checked, a nuclear weapon or a drone is still powerless against a virus and a warming climate.
We need to dramatically change how we spend taxpayer money and begin to address our real needs. The pandemic is a wake-up call that has exposed massive inequities throughout our society. We need a re-ordering of our budget so that immigrants and people of color are treated fairly, and all communities have the resources they need to thrive.
Twenty-nine members of Congress have signed onto a letter urging the passage of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would cut ten percent from the Pentagon budget. Senator Grassley, Senator Ernst, and all Iowans in Congress should follow their lead and join in this effort.
Jon Krieg is a regional communications specialist for the American Friends Service Committee in Des Moines. He can be reached at Jkrieg@afsc.org.