The President's Budget First Take: What We Like, What We Want to Change
We were delighted to see that the budget President Barack Obama sent to Congress Tuesday included programs that would lift half a million people out of poverty, reduce child hunger and provide funding to begin to address the impacts of harmful climate change on the world.
But there’s so much more we could do as a nation to address climate change, protect our national security and meet the needs of all of our country if Congress rejected the president’s proposals to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the Pentagon.
Military spending still overshadows everything else
Our single biggest disappointment with the president’s budget is Pentagon spending. For the next fiscal year that begins on October 1, 2016, the biggest item in the discretionary budget that Congress will vote on is for Pentagon spending. The president’s budget provides the Pentagon with a base budget of about $524 billion—enough to feed every child at risk of hunger in the U.S. three meals a day for 20 years.
But that’s apparently not enough for the military contractors who account for much of this spending. Above and beyond the base budget for the Pentagon, the president adds an “Overseas Contingency Operations” fund – we call it a slush fund – that would add another $59 billion dedicated to Pentagon spending – with that additional money our nation we could keep feeding those children for another 2.3 years. (And, some in Congress are arguing that the Pentagon should get even more).
The good news is that this is just the beginning of the public debate on the budget. Congress now will hold hearings, will vote on its own budget priorities (that could happen by March) and ultimately your elected officials have the responsibility to approve spending for each federal cabinet agency and program (that should happen by September but might not happen until December). Here’s a first list of what we like and what we’d like to see changed in the president’s budget.
What we like
There’s a lot we like in the president’s proposals for the federal spending for the next fiscal year, particularly proposals that would provide greater economic opportunity for millions of low-income working families. These aren’t pipe dream initiatives. The following proposals could make a difference in how many children are hungry next summer, how many families fall into poverty and whether or not poor countries around the world are able to address the effects of greenhouse gas pollution.
Our list would include
- Helping children at risk of hunger access nutritious meals during the summer. The president’s budget provides $12 billion over ten years in supplemental food benefits for low-income families with children during the summer, helping low-income children access nutritious food when school isn’t in session. Congress is in the midst of reauthorizing our child nutrition programs, and expanding access for summer meals is a top priority for many legislators.
- Preventing low-income families facing a financial crisis from falling into or deeper into poverty. The president’s budget funds a new Emergency Aid and Service Connection Grants initiative. This initiative would test state and local approaches to help families deal with emergency crises that arise. When a parent loses a job, the car breaks down, or the heater goes on the fritz, that emergency expense is all it takes for a family to spiral into poverty. The Emergency Aid and Service Connection Grants initiative would help families respond to those types of financial crises. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is up for reauthorization this year. This is an initiative Congress could include in that legislation.
- Fixing the glaring gap in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to prevent adults without children from being taxed into or deeper into, poverty. The president’s budget expands the EITC for childless adults, non-custodial parents, and low-wage workers between the ages of 21 and 25. The EITC lifts more people out of poverty than any other program in the U.S., excluding Social Security. Research shows that during the 1990s, EITC expansions were more effective at increasing employment among single mothers with children than either welfare reform in 1996 or the strong economy. However, low-income adults without children, non-custodial parents, and low-wage workers under age 25 are largely excluded from the EITC. Expanding the EITC to reach this population would lift about half a million people out of poverty and make more than 10 million people less poor. While there’s no pending legislation at the moment, this proposal has broad bipartisan support, including from both President Obama and Speaker Ryan.
- Providing at least $750 million in funding for the global Green Climate Fund next year. This funding is the next step in making good on the U.S. agreement to provide at least $3 billion from the U.S. toward this $100 billion initiative to fund adaptation and green energy solutions in poor countries around the world.
- Significant increases in fund to repair and rebuild tribally-operated schools and to the Tiwahe Initiative, addressing interrelated of poverty, violence and substance abuse in Native communities.
What we’d like to see cut
- Zero out the Pentagon’s slush fund. Congress created an “Overseas Contingency Operations” account with the argument that the Pentagon couldn’t estimate the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and therefore funding had to be above and beyond the normal budget. But this slush fund has now grown into a monster budget item that on its own overshadows spending in many other government agencies. And this funding does not include support for our veterans. Congress should just eliminate this funding.
- Stop funding for the new, nuclear capable cruise missile and put a halt to plans for a 30-year, $1 trillion modernization program for our nuclear weapons. As a Quaker organization, we believe war is not the answer. But you don’t have to be a Quaker to question whether spending $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize nuclear weapons that no-one believes we should ever use makes sense.
- Cut the Pentagon’s core budget and invest the savings in peacebuilding efforts around the world. For fourteen years, the U.S. has tried wars and military actions to bring peace to the Middle East. What we know now is that war isn’t working. Yet as a nation we continue to spend over 90 percent of our budget for international engagement on the military. Rather than continuing to pour hundreds of billions of dollars to fight wars, the U.S. Congress should invest in long term peacebuilding efforts to prevent those wars before they break out. Reorienting our government toward peacebuilding would save lives and money.
We will be looking more closely at the budget in the coming weeks.