(RNS) — With just days to go before possibly defaulting on our bills, the president and Congress are grappling for a debt limit deal that can ward off an economic crisis.
Congress has the power to raise the debt ceiling without endangering the economy. It has done so before. However, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is refusing to do so without drastic cuts to social and environmental programs.
The House recently passed a debt ceiling increase bill — the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 — that would cut funding for nutrition assistance, education, housing — nearly all federal programs, except the Pentagon. It would also impose harsh new restrictions on fundamental assistance programs, taking away food aid, health care and income support from people struggling to find work.
People who are hungry and vulnerable should not be made scapegoats. If our national leaders are genuinely looking to reduce spending, cut waste and bring down the debt, they need not look further than the Pentagon.
For too long, the Pentagon has been treated as a sacred cow in budget negotiations, leaving our health care, education, environment and other programs absorbing all the cuts. In fact, every year Congress adds even more money than requested by the White House to the Pentagon’s budget. Lawmakers fund weapons and programs that even military leaders do not want and that do not appear to be making our country or world safer.
Yet both Democratic and Republican leaders have promised not to cut the Pentagon’s budget in any debt ceiling deal.
The White House has called for including military spending alongside other programs in any spending caps that might be part of a deal. This is a welcome step to ensure human needs programs do not bear all the brunt of cuts. Unfortunately, House leaders have rejected that option.
The Pentagon has already spent some $8.1 trillion for war since 9/11, roughly equivalent to 25% of our current national debt. As families struggle to meet basic needs, the military budget has grown rapidly in recent years, reaching an astounding $858 billion in FY 2023. If this pattern continues, annual military spending is expected to hit $1 trillion annually in a short amount of time.
With numbers like these, we literally cannot afford to ignore the Pentagon. And it would welcome some cuts, especially for programs it has not even requested.
The Navy, for example, has two programs primed to be eliminated: the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile and the Freedom-class littoral combat ships. If ended, they would save more than $4.3 billion over the next five years. The military no longer needs or wants them, but Congress keeps them funded.
Rather than imposing harsher work requirements on the poor, Congress should be looking to cut wasteful military spending and increase revenue by, for example, closing corporate tax loopholes. Tax cuts passed post-9/11 have slashed taxes in favor of the wealthy and large corporations. This has driven down federal revenues, adding an estimated $10 trillion to the debt since their enactment.
Our country will not be made better — fiscally or otherwise — by slashing our most effective poverty-fighting programs and increasing hardship for the most vulnerable people. The right way to deal with our debt now and for the future is to get serious about cutting wasteful military spending.
The measure of America should not be how many weapons we have, but how we support those most in need, help communities thrive and protect the planet on which we all live.
(Bridget Moix is the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and leads Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)