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Hey Obama, Downsize This: 25% Slash for Defense Spending Needed Now

With so many social programs desperately in need of better funding, progressive leaders are making a push to go after Pentagon budgets.

As President Obama released his budget outline for fiscal year 2010 on Thursday, recommending about $664 billion in defense funding, a determined group of progressive Congress members and activists pushed for a marked change in the way the US spends those dollars. Led by Rep. Barney Frank, the group advocates a 25 percent cut in military spending, to be accomplished by eliminating wasteful and obsolete programs, reducing active nuclear warheads and withdrawing from Iraq in an efficient and timely manner.

The Obama administration's budget allocates $534 billion in general defense funds for fiscal year (FY) 2010: an inflation-adjusted increase of about 2.1 percent over the amount appropriated by Congress last year, according to an analysis by Travis Sharp at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. It's a smaller increase than previous years have seen, according to Sharp, but nevertheless continues the trend of a swelling defense budget. An additional $130 billion is requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama's budget outline excludes funding for nuclear weapons and non-Defense Department military costs which, according to Sharp's analysis, totaled around $23 billion for FY 2009.

Military spending has more than doubled in the past eight years; it now tops $700 billion and sucks up about 40 percent of US tax dollars. According to Frank, bloated defense funding is crowding out domestic priorities.

"The logic is irrefutable," Frank said at a forum on Wednesday, where he discussed his proposal to chop off a quarter of the defense budget. "If we are not able to get military spending under control, if we are not able to break the trend that's now there, we will not be able to respond to important domestic needs."

Frank was joined by Congress members Barbara Lee, Keith Ellison, Dennis Kucinich and Lynn Woolsey at Wednesday's meeting. Lee emphasized the benefits of reducing military spending, including more money for education, health care and homeland security. She also pointed to some obvious targets to slash: stale Cold War-era programs that somehow never made it to the chopping block.

"It has been eighteen years since the collapse of the Soviet Union," Lee said in a statement. "I find it mind-boggling and inexcusable that nearly two decades later, the Pentagon continues to waste tens of billions of dollars buying outdated, Cold War-era weaponry for a national security threat that no longer exists."

The flood of dollars toward obsolete systems is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cutting weapons purchases, according to Craig Jennings, federal fiscal policy analyst with the nonprofit OMB Watch. Substantially reducing the Pentagon budget will necessitate a meaty cost-benefit analysis, discarding appropriations that just aren't worth it.

"Congress needs to ask the critical question, 'Are defense expenditures meeting the needs of the nation?'" Jennings told Truthout. "In other words, does the F-22 make us so much safer from present-day threats like al-Qaeda that it's worth expending tens of billions of dollars on? Do we really need $4 billion stealth naval destroyers? What is more ultimately harmful to the health of the nation: 46 million people without health insurance or the threat of intercontinental ballistic missile launches from North Korea? These are questions that Congress - Democratic and Republican - have consistently failed to pose. While Frank's specific plan may not be the right solution, the very fact that he's broaching the taboo subject of substantial cuts to military spending is very encouraging."

Just trimming the fat - cutting obsolete programs, reducing nuclear arsenals and eliminating wasteful spending - would save more than $60 billion, according to Erik Leaver, policy outreach director for Foreign Policy in Focus.

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