From VCS Executive Director Patrick Bellon and VCS Advocate Christopher Miller
The federal budget is a statement of priorities. In the Rep. Ryan version of the 2013 budget subsequently embraced by Gov. Mitt Romney, the word veteran never appears. The budget proposal runs to 98 pages. Zero mention of veterans. Two protracted conflicts, high veteran unemployment and a multitude of coming home issues and not one mention of veterans in this budget proposal. It clearly states that veterans are NOT a priority. This budget proposal is worse than an empty thanks for your service, an empty thanks would require being mentioned. Veterans did not even make the list of prioirites. Veterans were ignored entirely. Veterans are essentially being told thanks for nothing, you are on your own. This is absolutely unacceptable. Especially coming from an aspiring commander-in-chief.
Now contrast that with the 2013 budget the President recently unveiled that clearly makes veterans a top priority. The contrast is very stark.
With a new generation of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the few significant increases in the executive’s 2013 budget is to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs,which would beincreased by 10%. This increase addresses issues facing veterans ranging from mental health to homelessness. It even addresses the needs of the growing female veterans population. Most importantly it budgets for needed increases in health care and disablity compensation.
But the budget mostly cuts. For every $1 in revenue raised from those making $250,000 annually and closing corporate tax loopholes, it cuts $2.50 from the budget. In ten years it will cut virtually the same amount of all discretionary spending for 2013. This was a target agreed upon by both Democrats and Republicans.
The media has reported that President Obama’s 2013 budget is controversial, though it reflects bipartisan agreement in Congress that discretionary spending should be reduced by $1 trillion over ten years. It allows the Bush tax cuts that have mostly benefitted the wealthiest Americans to expire. It institutes the ‘Buffet Rule’ that no household making over $1 million a year will pay less than 30% in taxes. It also includes the Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee on America’s biggest financial institutions who contributed to the financial crisis to ensure every cent of taxpayer funds from the TARP are paid back to the federal government.
So where is the controversy? The budget still projects a $901 billion shortfall. In the $3.6 trillion proposal, $2.5 trillion, about 70%, is ‘mandatory’ spending, which means that the money must be spent according to laws passed by Congress. The other $1.1 trillion is ‘discretionary’ spending, meaning this is money the President would like to spend. To ‘balance the budget’, as many in Congress are calling for, would mean cutting out all discretionary spending except for around $200 billion.
This sounds easier than it is, especially when the cost of defense maintenance and operations is $272 billion alone. Virtually all defense spending is discretionary and the President’s budget already includes billions of dollars in defense cuts in procurement, operations, bases, and personnel. Discretionary spending increases in the budget include Veterans healthcare, student aid, the State Department, and housing. To balance the budget in 2013 would mean mothballing the Pentagon and State Department, as well as veterans’ healthcare, student aid, and the federal prison system. And that would just be for one year. It wouldn’t even begin to pay down the national debt which we have accumulated over decades.
Americans have gotten used to demanding government provide services we all want and benefit from, but refuse to pay higher revenue, or taxes, to fund them. This seems to include paying for the true costs of war,if the Ryan-Romney 2013 budget is any indication. This is unacceptable.
The budget discourse takes place on intellectually dishonest terms. Who would provide the services everyone is accustomed to if this budget was passed? Some of the most vital services the government provides no private sector firm can or would provide. What private firm could provide a military? Even private defense contractors employ former soldiers trained by the U.S. military. Private intelligence contractors do the same. Who would build and maintain roads and airports and secure them? Firms may build roads and airports where and when they need them, but they wouldn’t build them beyond their own need for capacity or use. Even if the government got out of the healthcare and Social Security game altogether, individual Americans would still have to pay for these services out of pocket.
President Obama’s 2013 budget should not controversial. Most of the President’s budget (like all budgets) is controlled by laws passed by Congress. If Sen. McCain were sitting in the White House today instead of President Obama, he would be facing the same problems. Americans support preserving and continuing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. They want a strong national security apparatus, good infrastructure, and education. Americans also overwhelmingly support our military and veterans,one of the few issues most agree on regardless of party. As a nation we must take a hard look at our values and realize that all of these things cost money and must be paid for. It isn’t a choice of which or how much; it is a choice of either/or. Either we decide we don’t want these things and don’t have to pay for them or we decide we do and we pay the what is required. Great countries require investment and hardwork, not dishonest conversations that allow us to shirk our responsibilities. As americans we must set priorities that live up to our highest ideals and values.
President Obama’s budget proposal makes sense and displays a very different set of priorities than the Ryan budget. Veterans occupy a preeminent place within that set of priorities,especially compared to being completely ignored. It is a balance of cuts and revenue increases. It provides for the programs Americans overwhelmingly support. It continues to fund programs we need to help our economy grow out of this economic downturn.