If budgets are moral documents, what does the US budget say about ours?

Why is destroying our enemies a higher priority than feeding, clothing and teaching children? 

U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets in an elephant walk training exercise demonstration in 2017. Photo courtesy of PxHere/Creative Commons

(RNS) — Our faith traditions teach us that budgets are moral documents. Where we invest our resources demonstrates the values we hold — what we believe is essential. How we spend available funds shows what kind of world we want to build.   

The United States’ budget, then, says a lot about our country’s values: Judging from how it allocates taxpayer dollars each year, the government seems to prioritize war over peace, weapons over people, corporations over communities. Congress seems to want to build a world in which the United States dominates others but does not protect the most vulnerable among us. 

Most recently, in March, President Biden requested $813 billion for the Department of Defense and related military programs for FY2023, an increase of $30 billion over FY2022. And just this month, while plans for social and economic reconstruction as well as additional COVID-19 relief remain stalled, Congress showed little hesitation in passing another $40 billion for Ukraine — most of it in military aid, and more than the president even asked for.

The Pentagon’s budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars in pet projects — expensive new weapons systems that line the pockets of the arms industry, as well as new nuclear weapons. None of this spending effectively addresses the most significant threats our country and world are facing: climate change, pandemic, economic inequality, and other root drivers of violence and conflict. 

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Additionally, each year Congress demands the Pentagon produce a wish list of weapon systems the administration didn’t ask for — colloquially known as the “Unfunded Priorities List” — despite the fact that the Pentagon can’t pass an audit to show how it has spent its previously budgeted dollars. No other federal department has such a list. Fiscal hawks in either party would not dream of asking the Department of Education what it needs beyond what the administration asked for. 

Investing in diplomacy and foreign assistance to address the drivers of instability and prevent wars are dwarfed by the war-making budget year after year. For every dollar we spend on preparing for and fighting wars, we spend less than a dime on building peace. Programs that increase the safety and security of our own communities, meanwhile — the Child Tax Credit, early education, fair housing, mental health services and environmental justice — face constant opposition and calls to reduce spending.

As people of faith, we must ask how the wealthiest nation in the world can have so much money for weapons while children in our communities and around the world go hungry every day. Why is destroying enemies seen as a higher priority than feeding, clothing and teaching our children how to live together peacefully? 

Most Americans would spend our budget differently if given a choice. In an experiment I’ve witnessed, when asked to divide up 100 pennies across all the different kinds of programs Congress funds, people invariably provide a more balanced investment to meet human needs, protect the vulnerable and help the environment without massive spending on weapons and war. This happens because the American people understand the moral values at stake. 

Bridget Moix. Photo via FCNL.org

Bridget Moix. Photo via FCNL.org

For decades, people of faith have been working together to press Congress to rein in runaway military spending and invest in human dignity for all God’s people. This is not just the ethical way to spend our tax dollars; it is the best way to create safety and security for our communities and our world. It is the right way to invest our resources in the world we seek. 

(Bridget Moix is the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and leads two other Quaker organizations, Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.) 

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