Reverend William Barber, Dr Liz Theoharis and Lindsay Koshgarian
March 27, 2019
Donald Trump recently unleashed his dark vision for our nation and our world, in the form of his budget request to Congress.
A budget shows our values more clearly than any tweet, campaign speech or political slogan. It’s what marries detailed, dollar-and-cents policy decisions to deeper political – and moral – priorities.
One set of moral priorities – a different one – would end our endless wars and use the vast wealth of this nation to end poverty and lead to true security for all of us. It would invest in healthcare, well-paying jobs, affordable higher education, safe drinking water and clean air for all of us.
The proposed Trump budget drops bombs on that vision – almost literally.
With this budget, Trump takes more than $1tn in taxpayer money and disperses fully $750bn to the military. Out of every taxpayer dollar, in other words, 62 cents go to the military and our militarized Department of Homeland Security. (Veterans’ benefits take another seven cents.)
That leaves just 31 cents for all the rest: education, job training, community economic development, housing, safe drinking water and clean air, health and science research, and the prevention of war through diplomacy and humanitarian aid.
The budget also cuts billions from non-discretionary anti-poverty programs outside of this $1tn. Medicaid and food stamps would be cut and disfigured beyond recognition.
At every turn, the Trump budget finds vast billions for militarization, while it cuts much smaller poverty and other programs, claiming the goal is to save money.
It includes $164bn in war funding, but it cuts $4.7bn in economic development and food assistance to other nations. It finds $14bn for a vanity project military branch called the space force, while it cuts $1.2bn for a program that’s built and preserved more than 1m affordable homes. It includes $11bn for contractor Lockheed Martin to build more F-35 jet fighters, but it cuts $3.7bn in heating and cooling assistance for 6m poor households.
And it includes more than $12bn for a wall at our border, while it cuts $1bn for Job Corps, the program that provides yearly training and work experience to 50,000 poor (and mostly black) youths.
The budget falsely claims to adhere to strict spending limits set by Congress for the military. But it hides an extra $174bn for the Pentagon in plain sight by adding it to a war spending account – despite the fact that the president has said he wants to bring back thousands of troops from Syria and Afghanistan. This gimmick brings total military spending all the way up to $750bn, even while the administration claims it is cutting the base Pentagon budget.
Saving money is apparently only the goal when it’s spending on the poor, on justice and equity, and on saving the Earth. Saving money, in other words, is just a smokescreen.
Unjust budgets and misplaced priorities aren’t just a Trump problem. The United States has been addicted to excessive military spending at the expense of true security at home for decades.
In our religious and moral traditions, we learn how we treat the immigrant and the neighbor is how we treat God. In our view, this budget’s values show not only a deep disregard for human life, but for God.
That’s why the Poor People’s Campaign is launching our vision for a moral America: a moral and constitutional budget that reminds Americans what decency and democracy really look like. Priority by priority, over the next few months we’re going to be rolling out a detailed blueprint for how to bring a real moral vision into our national and political budget priorities.
To start, our budget will propose ending our fruitless wars, bringing troops home from the majority of the 800 bases in 90 countries where they’re currently stationed, and cutting the annual gift of more than $300bn to Pentagon contractors.
Even after cutting hundreds of billions this way, our military budget would still be greater than the military budgets of China and Russia combined. We’ll be safe. And we will propose investing that money in ways that build true security at home.
The current US budget may be shaped by the rich and powerful, but our budget will be brought to the rich and powerful by the people. This June, we’re convening the Poor People’s Moral Action Congress, bringing together hundreds of Poor People’s Campaign members from more than 40 states in our nation’s capital to make sure the 140 million people in this country who are poor and low-income are included in the national discussion in 2020.
For too long, we have had budgets that provide security for a wealthy and powerful few rather than the poor and disenfranchised many. Real security means establishing peace, justice and promoting the material wellbeing and liberty of all, including future generations.
Let’s bring our country back to these values, enshrined in the constitution and our moral traditions. And let’s revive the heart and soul of our nation.
- The Rev Dr William Barber II and the Rev Dr Liz Theoharis are cochairs of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Lindsay Koshgarian directs the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies