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Bush's Mammoth Defense Budget is Another Bridge to Nowhere

One built on the backs of ordinary Americans.
 
 
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As the poor and middle-class continue to bear the brunt of these hard economic times, struggling to pay for housing, food, heating and health care, the Pentagon today announced its request of $515.4 billion for its 2009 budget. (The Bush budget later revealed a correction -- the request is actually $518.3 billion -- the Pentagon "forgot" $2.9 billion of "permanent appropriations.")

According to the New York Times , this seven percent increase would make annual military spending, when adjusted for inflation, its highest level since World War II. Further, the budget request doesn't even include war funding, nuclear weapons programs, taking care of returning veterans, or covering the interest on defense spending's share of the debt. The Bush Administration has already increased "baseline military spending" by 30 percent since taking office, and the $70 billion Iraq supplemental alone was more than China's entire defense budget.

Meanwhile, the Bush Budget fails to address -- and even exacerbates -- real threats to security that Americans are experiencing every day. More people are going hungry, and the President proposes eliminating food stamp coverage for more than 300,000 people in low-income working families with children. More people can't pay their bills, and he would cut 22 percent from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The Community Services Block Grant, "a $654 million program that provides housing, nutrition, education and job services to low-income people," would be eliminated. The Hope VI housing program would also be killed. Representative Spencer Bachus of Alabama, one of 53 House Republicans who voted to support the program, told the Times, "The program has been a success. It has eliminated some of the most dangerous and distressed public housing in the country and created livable, mixed-income communities."

Also proposed are $170 billion in cuts to Medicare and $14 billion to Medicaid. Of course, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans who are eating, sleeping, and generally living just fine, thanks, are preserved. As Frances Fox Piven, author of The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush's Militarism , said today, "American wealth is being redirected toward the military and the rich. Meanwhile, the growing needs of Americans, especially the poor and the old, are being ignored. The instabilities in the US economy now becoming evident are more and more worrisome."

Joseph Cirincione, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of Bomb Scare , told me, "The president's plan shows that the military-industrial complex has firm control of a budget now out of control. Given the growing financial crisis gripping this country, no one believes that these numbers are sustainable. But rather than make smart choices and begin a process that restores fiscal discipline, President Bush is spending like -- well -- like he's not going to be here next year when the bills come due." Cirincione points to Bush's missile defense requests to indicate the absurdity of the proposed budget: "Take just one number that illustrates the unreality of this unaffordable plan -- $720 million for a Rube Goldberg anti-missile weapon system in eastern Europe. Intelligence assessments show that Iran does not have now -- nor is it likely to have in the next ten years -- a missile that could threaten Europe, let alone the United States.

Nevertheless the president is rushing to pour money that we don't have, on technology that doesn't work, to counter a threat that doesn't exist. Not only that, Bush wants to spend $4.5 billion over the next five years on a European anti-missile system that hasn't passed even basic tests, and which many experts believe will never work. The citizens in Poland and the Czech Republic, where Bush would house these weapons, don't want the bases. But Bush is still trying to force it down their throats, even as real domestic needs at home go unfunded. The Alaskan 'bridge to nowhere' achieved political infamy for being a $1 billion budget item. This 'weapon for nothing' has four times the cost and even less justification."

For Americans whose lives are threatened daily by how hard it is to make ends meet, the Bush defense budget is indeed just another Bridge to Nowhere.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.

 
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