I applauded Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s plan to reduce the size of the Army: Fewer soldiers, but better trained. Makes sense, considering we are coming to the end of the seemingly eternal war in Afghanistan. (By the end of this year, the U.S. will have fewer than 10,000 troops left in Afghanistan. And, the U.S. won’t technically be at war with any country. Wow.)
But the president’s budget seems to contradict that war-free reality. Obama wants an additional $80 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which is separate from core Pentagon spending, and is used to fund overseas wars. The OCO money is exempt from the budget cuts that were hammered out in December: A Pentagon spending cap of $496 billion for fiscal year 2015.
The Overseas Contingency Operations Fund was created to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Isn’t it time for that budget item to disappear? Why is the Pentagon allowed to hide money in this slush fund when so many other agencies are desperate for funds?
I can think of lots of ways to spend $80 billion in the U.S. proper, helping our hardworking citizens. How about better roads? High speed trains for travel? More college scholarships for low-income students?
And then I went online and got some more ideas from our congresswomen’s websites.
Sen. Patty Murray should be insisting on more job training funding — maybe in education, energy or the environment, some of her key issues — to further strengthen our still-weak economy.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers says the American people want and deserve new health technologies and expanded access to health care in rural areas. Why isn’t she pushing Obama to use some of those slush fund moneys to achieve those ends?
Sen. Maria Cantwell is rightly concerned about housing and health care on tribal lands; she should demand some of that unnecessary war funding to help desperately poor Native Americans.
Of course, if we really want to spend tax money overseas on non-war programs — because remember, in 2015 we won’t be in a war — perhaps we should invest it on something more effective and useful, like peace-building, or food aid for drought-stricken areas.
One thing is for sure, we don’t need to maintain an $80 billion war fund when there is no war.