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Prioritizing Education Over Tanks

Public Citizen News / July-August 2019

By Angela Bradbery

This article appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

Tanks or education? Fighter jets or housing?

Right now, as shown by our national spending, the U.S. puts military spending over human needs such as education and housing, national priorities are severely skewed and must change, Public Citizen maintains.

So the organization in May launched a broad coalition of progressive organizations to shift fundamentally the debate over Pentagon spending and infuse the issue into the presidential campaign. The coalition is calling on the next U.S. president to embrace dramatic cuts in Pentagon spending – at least $200 billion annually from the current $716 billion – and a reallocation of the money to human needs. President Donald Trump’s budget for the 2020 fiscal year calls for a 5% increase in military spending. (In contrast, Trump’s budget proposal requests a 10% decrease in funding for the U.S. Department of Education, bringing it down to . Trump has also proposed major cuts to the budgets for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy and Department of Health and Human Services, among others.)

Under the banner of “Put People Over the Pentagon,” the 22 groups sent a letter sent to all announced presidential candidates.

“The military-industrial complex has driven Pentagon spending to insane levels – more than in the next seven countries combined,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “As a direct result, we are less secure, mired in endless war and told – untruthfully – that the nation does not have the money needed to address our most urgent priorities.”

The letter said that “[I]t is time to stop misdirecting hundreds of billions of dollars away from domestic and human needs to pad unnecessary budget lines for endless wars, failed weapons and the Pentagon’s corporate handouts.” Doing so “will make our country stronger and more just.”

The groups maintain that military spending should be reduced by at least $200 billion annually, freeing up $2 trillion or more over the next decade for domestic and human needs. With those spending cuts, the Pentagon’s budget would remain at a level well above our nation’s post-World War II historical average.

A newly created site, PeopleOverPentagon.org, serves as a hub of information on the initiative to end wasteful Pentagon spending and enumerates some opportunities for savings that could significantly reduce spending without undermining national security or capabilities. For example, replacing some military personnel with civilian employees could save $200 million. Eliminating the Overseas Contingency Operations account could further save an estimated $68.8 billion to $174 billion in one year. And forgoing the creation of a new Space Force could save $2.6 billion.

The website also makes available a social media toolkit to help activists amplify the message that 2020 presidential candidates should prioritize people-first programs like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

The groups’ agenda also calls for the United States never again to go to war without congressional authorization, and says that Congress should not authorize military action without identifying revenue to pay for current and future costs, including taking care of injured veterans.

Organizational signers of the call to “Put People over the Pentagon” include: 350.org, Center for Popular Democracy, Code Pink, Credo Action, Daily Kos, Demand Progress, Democracy for America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Indivisible, Just Foreign Policy, MoveOn.org, National Priorities Project, Peace Action, Public Citizen, RootsAction, Social Security Works, United We Dream, Win Without War, Women’s Action for New Directions and World Beyond War.