(RNS) — It’s budget season in Washington, and people of faith should pay attention.
Over the coming months, Congress will face — and make — critical budget decisions that could drastically reshape our country. The old axiom that budgets are moral documents is true. So now our leaders, as well as the values our country proclaims, will be put to the test.
On March 9, President Biden released his budget for the next fiscal year, urging Congress to fund the White House’s $6.9 trillion in priorities for 2024, make corporations pay more of their fair share in taxes and approve his plan to reduce the deficit by nearly $3 trillion over the next decade. Republicans in Congress quickly pushed back and declared it dead on arrival.
Making matters more challenging, the already contentious spending debates are complicated this year by a looming deadline to lift the debt ceiling. If not, the United States could default on trillions of dollars in accumulated federal debt. Congress will need to act by June to avoid defaulting and triggering even more economic turmoil. But who will pay the real costs in the process?
Some in Congress are demanding deep cuts to vital programs that people rely on every day in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Childcare, health care, education, jobs, environmental justice and international peace building are all potentially on the chopping block. Not even children are immune. A funding cut to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) will send more of our children to school and bed hungry. That can’t be an answer.
Some are also warning of a potential government shutdown given the depth of disagreement and congressional division. It can be hard to see a way to reconcile the competing demands to cut spending, reduce our growing debt and invest in the programs our country needs.
But there is one place to rein in excessive spending hiding in plain sight: the Pentagon.
The current Pentagon budget is already at a staggering $858 billion. Congress consistently piles on tens of billions on top of what the president requests in the name of national security. This is encouraged by the Pentagon’s “unfunded priorities lists,” where the military submits wish lists to Congress, asking for additional funding beyond what the president requested. Last year, those lists totaled $24 billion. No other part of the federal budget gets the same opportunity to push for more funding.
Congress uses those lists as a jumping-off point. For 2024, President Biden requested the largest military budget in history — $886 billion. The Pentagon’s comptroller, Michael J. McCord, said it’s “inevitable” the Pentagon’s budget will reach $1 trillion annually.
But runaway war spending is not inevitable. It is a choice Congress makes every year. If Democrats and Republicans want to find common ground on reducing federal spending, they should start by cutting weapons systems, ships and equipment that don’t work or that the Pentagon doesn’t want or need. Moreover, we must invest in addressing the greatest threats we face — climate change, global disease, economic decline and violent extremism.
Twenty years of the War on Terror has cost taxpayers more than $8 trillion and counting, proving that the war isn’t working. Meanwhile, the Pentagon cannot even pass an audit after six tries and is unable to account for all its use of our tax dollars.
The Pentagon budget should not be allowed to endlessly expand with little to no questions asked and scant pushback given. Instead, Congress should heed World War II Supreme Allied Commander and President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning from decades ago:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed … This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
President Eisenhower’s words are not just a warning from history. They are today’s reality.
(Bridget Moix is the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and leads 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.)