Support for Our Troops That Falls Short of the Mark

Amodei-SNAP02.fwFormer Vice President Dick Cheney took to Fox News on Monday night to lambaste the Obama administration’s proposed cuts to the military budget, lamenting the president’s desire to ensure that Americans have access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps — despite the fact that over 900,000 veterans currently depend on them.

Cheney appeared on Sean Hannity’s prime-time show last night to discuss the the fiscal year 2015 military budget as previewed on Monday afternoon. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey announced among other initiatives a reduction in the size of the Army, a fact that didn’t sit well with Cheney. While the hand-wringing that the Army will be smaller than at any point after World War II is mostly hype, the former vice president still readily agreed with Hannity’s premise that the proposed cuts are “dangerous,” lamenting that Obama has not had Reagan-like increases in defense spending.

“You know, I’ve obviously not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama, but this really is over the top,” Cheney said. “It does enormous long-term damage to our military. They act as though it’s like highway spending and you can turn it on and off.” Cheney also remains worried that in announcing a rebalancing of U.S. strategy towards Asia — and away from the Middle East that was the focus of his time in office — is just a cover for Obama to slash the military budget further and display his dislike for the military further:

CHENEY: They peddle this line that now we’re going to pivot to Asia, but they’ve never justified it. And I think the whole thing is not driven by any change in world circumstances, it’s driven by budget considerations. He’d much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.

Amodei-SNAP.fwWhat Cheney apparently doesn’t realize is that many of the same troops that he claims the Obama administration doesn’t support rely heavily on the food stamps that he wishes to cut. A Defense Department review released last year showed that military families were more reliant on food stamps in 2013 than in any previous year, with over $100 million in food stamp spending at military grocery stores. “Food stamp usage at the stores has more than quadrupled since 2007 as the recession compounded the already difficult financial situation faced by military families,” ThinkProgress’ Deputy Economics editor Alan Pyke wrote last week.

Despite his experience in first the Pentagon and then the White House, Cheney also seems unaware that many of the troops he supports depend on the same food stamp program once they leave military service. “Nationwide, in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families in 2011,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote in a recent analysis. Given the high unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans — 9.7 percent for those who served when Cheney was in office — it’s unsurprising that many of them need assistance from the government to help make ends meet.

And in spite of the large number of former servicemen and women that count on the program, Cheney’s Republican colleagues are still fastidiously attempting to skin it to the bone. As of last November, thanks to House Republicans’ demands, veterans saw along with their fellow beneficiaries a cut of $36 a month for a family of four to $11 a month for a single person. The result: food stamps now average less than $1.40 per person per meal. Given just how sparse benefits were, at just $133 a month on average before the cut, Cheney’s protestation against Obama for wanting to provide more to those who have served comes across as somewhat unseemly.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

The Real Problem with Military Spending

The Pentagon’s budget has plenty of fat, but cuts need to be targeted.

Mattea KramerBy Mattea Kramer

The federal budget cuts scheduled to start January 2 unless Congress gets its act together would reduce funding for everything from nuclear warheads to food safety. But even if you feel strongly that federal spending is out of control, there are plenty of reasons to cancel these looming cuts.

Our lawmakers are currently negotiating a plan to avoid these steep budget reductions that are known in Washington as “sequestration” — a term for automatic, across-the-board spending cuts. Congress is eager to avoid sequestration in January because the cuts would poison our flagging economic recovery. But rushing Congress into making budget cuts without allowing enough time to make them thoughtfully could also be harmful.

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There’s certainly room for savings in the nation’s $3.7 trillion budget — if we go about it in a smart way. It’s the responsibility of our elected officials to make cuts judiciously by targeting low-impact programs and sparing — or even enlarging — programs that deliver great value.

The pending sequestration budget cuts, however, would simply slash every program in the discretionary budget. Pentagon funding, for example, would plunge by $55 billion in 2013 if sequestration took effect.

Military hawks are squawking about these looming cuts, claiming that they’d weaken our national security. Yet we can easily spend much less on our troops, wars, and military research without becoming less safe. According to the White House, the Pentagon’s base budget — which doesn’t include things like the costs of our Afghanistan operations — grew by 48 percent over the last decade, after adjusting for inflation.

We’re spending about $660 billion a year on our military. That’s nearly one in five of our federal budget dollars. Not only do we spend far more than peer nations like France or China, we spend more than the next 16 largest militaries combined. The Pentagon accounts for more than 40 percent of global military expenditures.

Military budget experts have pinpointed many ways to cut the Pentagon’s $660 billion budget. We can phase out Cold War weapons programs, trim the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and cut the number of U.S. military personnel deployed overseas. None of these things would necessarily harm our national security. But implementing smart reductions takes time, and sequestration would force immediate and un-targeted cuts in 2013.

So it makes sense for lawmakers to cancel sequestration, but that’s not the end of their task — it’s just the beginning. Now is the time for lawmakers to do the real work of putting together a long-term plan to cut obsolete and ineffective military programs. The American public is on board with this kind of downsizing. Americans on average say they’d like to see the Pentagon’s budget cut by nearly 20 percent, as The Washington Post has reported. But Washington has yet to catch on, and some Republicans and Democrats have actually proposed increasing our military spending.

So we should support our lawmakers’ efforts to cancel sequestration while holding them accountable for the larger task ahead. They should replace those across-the-board cuts with a smarter, long-term approach to deficit reduction.


OtherWords guest columnist Mattea Kramer is a senior research analyst at National Priorities Project and the lead author of the new book A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget. OtherWords.org

Indefensible: The Truth About Pentagon Spending

A mountain of misleading rhetoric from big Pentagon contractors has buried the facts.
By Suzie Dershowitz

Suzie Dershowitz

Today, there’s a debate raging about the federal budget, our national spending priorities, and how best to protect our national security and our men and women on the front lines.

With the U.S. war in Iraq officially over and our operations in Afghanistan drawing down, this is the perfect time to stop partisan squabbling and rethink the way we fund the Pentagon. Americans on both sides of the aisle agree that economic security goes hand-in-hand with national security. A majority of us support cutting the defense budget by 18 percent, or more than $100 billion, according to a recent Stimson Center study.

It’s time we started spending smarter on our military and weapons. We need a sensible, balanced, and long-term approach to national security.

But all the fear-mongering about Pentagon budget cuts potentially spurring massive job losses makes it hard to have a conversation about our national security priorities. A mountain of misleading rhetoric put forth by big Pentagon contractors — who are spending millions on lobbying and campaigns — has buried the facts. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top 10 government contractors spent a combined total of more than $56.3 million on lobbying expenditures and more than $9 million on campaign contributions last year. A number of these companies spending millions on expanding their undue influence collect most of their revenues in taxpayer dollars. Now members of Congress are parroting their talking points.

The public has a right to know the truth. First, shelling out more money for the Pentagon budget doesn’t necessarily mean more jobs. As my colleague Ben Freeman at the Project On Government Oversight demonstrated in a recent report, the top five defense contractors were cutting jobs while being awarded more taxpayer dollars between 2006 and 2011. Over this five-year period, total employment at companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing declined as these military contracting giants thrived, not just in terms of federal contract dollars but in overall financial performance. Apparently these Beltway bandits have no qualms about letting workers go when it helps their bottom line.

Meanwhile, major defense contractors’ top executives enjoy compensation packages on par with Wall Street CEOs. The chief executives of Lockheed, Boeing, United Technologies, and Northrop Grumman all made between $22 and $27.6 million in total 2011 compensation. So when contractors threaten to send thousands of layoff notices leading up to the 2012 election, it’s clear they are playing politics with national security.

Military contractors’ capacity to launch such a large-scale campaign to defend their profits is symptomatic of underlying structural issues with the way the United States does national defense. The Pentagon’s budget has continued to grow unchecked for decades because our national security policy is still mired in the Cold War industrial defense paradigm. The world has shifted, and the Pentagon needs to make the transition towards leaner, smarter spending to face today’s threats, like terrorism and cybersecurity.

Mismanagement and Pentagon waste, not a lack of funding, are the real problems. In fact, authorizing less money may spur reform. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on building costly new weapons systems and more nuclear lab construction projects we don’t need, our military needs to reset its priorities.

The bottom line is that when private companies exert so much influence over the defense budget process, they divert resources away from what our troops and veterans need. National security policy should aim squarely at protecting the American people, not giving taxpayer-financed subsidies to multibillion-dollar corporations. Spending smarter, not bigger, on defense will make us safer in the long run.


Suzie Dershowitz is a public policy fellow at the Project On Government Oversight. www.pogo.org  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)