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Military Spending’s Out of Control While Slashing It Could Easily Fund Medicare for All

Photograph Source: MSgt John Nimmo Sr. – Public Domain

Something very unusual happened on Thursday, Oct. 17. The New York Times suddenly ran an article on its opinion page explaining how to cut $300 billion from the $1-trillion military budget — enough, the article explained, to fund Bernie Sanders’ proposed program for an expanded Medicare program to cover all Americans without raising a dime in new taxes.

The article, written by Lindsay Koshgarian, director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ National Priorities Project, explained that by shifting the US diplomatic and military strategy from one of confrontation, endless wars, expansive overseas basing, and unilateralism to one of diplomacy, a pull-back from foreign bases and global deployments, with a concomitant reduction in the nation’s 2.4 million-person military could be accomplished with no threat to US national security.

Koshgarian’s opinion article actually listed the cuts that could be made, attaching a dollar value to each one. Examples were:

* End the practice of supplemental appropriations for war funding, much of which is actually used for more spending on other unintended military programs and which have only led to unending wars that have done nothing to make the US safer, for example in Iraq and Afghanistan. Savings: $66 billion per year.

* End funding for other nations’ militaries. Savings $14 billion a year.

* Close foreign bases (Almost one-third of all uniformed US military personnel serve abroad, most of them in non-crisis-zone locations or combat zones). Savings: $90 billion

* Cancel nuclear programs. The US has 1550 or more operational nuclear weapons — enough to destroy any enemy, and indeed the whole globe — yet at the end of his second term before leaving office, President Obama signed a bill launching a 10-year $1.7-trillion program to “modernize” and upgrade the US nuclear arsenal. It is a completely unneeded and destabilizing program certain to trigger a new global arms race. Immediate savings from eliminating this program: $43 billion a year.

* Cancel pointless weapons programs from the F-35 and F-22 to new Navy destroyers and aircraft carriers. These are all weapons that will never be used in any war against the US as all such wars, experts agree, would almost instantly go nuclear. Savings: $57 billion.

Just these five areas of cuts alone would save a total of $270 billion. The remaining savings in the IPS study came from smaller cuts, such as the $9 billion for Trump’s Mexico border wall.

The surprise isn’t that there are enormous savings to be had by ending America’s imperial military and slashing its extravagant annual budget, which by one reckoning done by the Project on Government Oversight’s Straus Military Reform Project is actually now closer to $1.25 trillion a year. It’s that this opinion piece by Koshgarian is the first time that a major US news organization has published an article detailing how vast that spending is, and how useless and damaging to US society it has become. The Times in fact, has long been a cheerleader for more spending to confront alleged “threats” that its own news pages have fraudulently inflated over the years from “missile gaps” to “Russian aggression in Ukraine,” to NATO weakness to Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” etc.

But Koshgarian is the first to admit that her article really didn’t tell the whole story. She explains that space limitations imposed by the Times opinion page prevented her from expanding on the point she was making.

“The US military budget could actually be cut much more without harming US national security,” Koshgarian said in an interview with ThisCantBeHappening! Her study, for example, looked at cutting some 200,000 to 220,000 US military personnel through closing bases and ending interminable wars and interventions in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Actually though, the number of US troops based abroad is double that figure, and virtually all of those soldiers, sailors, pilots and marines, perhaps with the exception of marine embassy guards, could be brought home, and US troop levels could be reduced by that amount. As well, she agreed, the US, has some 900,000 uniformed personnel based in the domestic US. That’s a number greater than the People’s Armed Police, the domestic troops China’s dictatorship uses to control its 1.4 billion people. On top of that, the US has another 1.1 million reservists and National Guard personnel, plus another — far more than justifiable for any real national or international emergency, plus 861,000 civilian employees.

Clearly the Pentagon could cut its domestic military payroll by a staggering amount. Since the military payroll accounts for about one-quarter of the annual Pentagon budget, that cut alone would produce an annual savings of some $250-$300 billion.

And there are other ways to make substantial budget cuts. Take the Navy. With its 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, each accounting for some 30,000 sailors and base personnel as well as billions of dollars’ worth of floating weaponry, it’s a ripe target for the budget axe. These carrier groups, nine of which are sitting in harbors in the US doing nothing, each costs $3 billion per year just to operate (or not operate!), not counting the huge cost of construction, nuclear refueling, periodic repairs, aircraft replacement and maintenance, weapons acquisition and decommissioning. Likewise the Navy’s vastly excessive 18 trident nuclear subs, 14 of which each carry 20 huge Trident missiles each with multiple warheads making one such sub capable of launching armageddon on any enemy all by itself, could be cut down to one or two floating nuclear menaces with no loss of US security, but with a savings of $3 billion per sub. (The other four other Trident subs have been converted to carry Tomahawk cruise missiles whose purpose is launching illegal missile salvos at third world enemies and should be brought home simply on principle, for similar savings.)

For that matter, virtually the entire Air Force, with a 2020 budget of $165 billion which includes its enormous number of fighters and fighter-bombers, and its strategic bomber force of B-52s, B-1 and B-2 Stealth bombers and other aircraft and personnel, could be eliminated with no significant loss in US security. This is because a couple of those virtually impregnable Trident subs mentioned above would alone be sufficient to deter any potential enemy from attacking the US. Meanwhile the rest of the Air Force fleet is really for “force projection” in the Third World, and thus is part of the American imperial foreign policy we currently have and need to end.

Just based upon what Koshgarian has written and the Times published, it should be clear to any rational American that the US is being spent into the ground by its imperial foreign policy and its military strategy of global dominance — a policy that decades of experience has shown has done nothing to make either the world or the US safer, but that has led to us living in a nation that is virtually a third world country itself in terms of education, health care, transportation infrastructure, environmental protection, worker safety, standard of living, life expectancy, infant mortality, and democratic freedom.

What’s needed now is more transparency and truth from the NY Times and other mainstream media. Koshgarian’s article should be just a starting point. But the discussion, and the journalism covering this issue, then needs to broaden and deepen.

Koshgarian also readily adds that her article’s focus on how the cited $300 billion in savings from military budget cuts could fund Medicare for All fails to explain that actually no extra funding is probably even needed for such a radical reform. It’s not just that such a reform could be funded, as Sen. Sanders has said, by a small tax on stock and bond trading and a big increase in taxes on the wealthy and corporations. In fact, savings that would come from moving away from a medical system based upon private insurance and for-profit health companies, hospitals and physicians to one funded by a single government insurer able to negotiate lower costs and coverage for all Americans would end up being “vastly cheaper” than our current system. In fact, she points to a recent study by the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute, which that a Medicare for All program such as that proposed by Democratic presidential contender Sanders, because of such savings as have been demonstrated by other countries that operate a single-payer system have discovered, rather than costing $300 billion more to operate, could save 10% on current costs per person or about $300 billion per year!

Among the examples of the kind of huge savings to be obtained almost immediately from adoption of a single-payer system: an end to private insurance premiums, co-pays and deductibles as well as employer premium payments to insurers, an end to current Medicare programs and even to Veterans medical care and health care programs for active duty military and their dependents. An end to Medicaid, the woefully inadequate and bureaucratically plagued program for the poor, elimination of the terribly complex and often prohibitively expensive subsidized “Affordable” Care Act program, and the end of “charity care” for the uninsured, provision of which by hospitals inevitably inflates other people’s hospital bills and insurance premiums.

So one big question is why candidates and advocates of Medicare for All like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, allow themselves to get caught up in idiotic debates over whether setting up a Canadian-style single-payer, government- funded health care system would require increasing middle-class taxes or not? Why don’t they start pointing instead to the need to slash Pentagon spending?

“I think that there is a fear among progressives about being accused of being ‘soft on defense,’” suggests Koshgarian, “but I think that is an outdated perception of public attitudes. People are ready to start seriously shifting Pentagon spending to fund other things.” She points to a new poll just completed by Public Citizen which finds that by a margin of 52% to 34%, American voters say they would support shifting money from war to domestic needs.

The actual question asked read:

“According to the Congressional Budget Office, the US is expected to spend $738 billion on its military in 2020. Some say that maintaining a dominant global military footprint is necessary to keep us safe and is worth the cost. Others say that money could be better spent on domestic needs like health care, education or protecting the environment. Based on what you’ve just read, would you support or oppose re-allocating money from the Pentagon budget to other priorities?”

By a more than 3-1 margin (66% to 18%), Democratic voters say the favor such a shift in funding. Among independents, that margin is 46% to 39%. Even among Republicans 39% favored shifting funding from the Pentagon to human needs with 52% opposed to the idea.

Clearly then, progressive Democrats including Sanders, should be hitting this issue head on. Instead of ducking and weaving on the issue of funding a Medicare for All single-payer reform of America’s current overpriced, bureaucratic and woefully inadequate health care system, reform advocates and candidates like Sanders and Warren should be declaring that such a reform would actually save money. They can also say that if more funding were to prove needed, it should be taken from military spending, which should be massively cut in any case and used to fund other urgent social and environmental needs if not needed for health care.

As for our pathetic and grossly overrated “free press,” instead of one shockingly honest op-ed piece on cutting the Pentagon budget to fund health care reform we need a sea-change in journalism to make investigating the decades-long hijacking of our taxes for war a top priority.

The Times, which has acknowledged the value of this debate by publishing Koshgarian’s excellent article, should take the lead. It should start by reporting on the Public Citizen poll, and also stop questioning how candidates “plan to pay” for Medicare for All proposals. If that paper won’t do this, other news organizations should pick up the job and run with it.

America — and the rest of the world! — will be a better place for it.

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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