by Heather Gray and Jonathan King
Originally published in Counterpunch
How is it that in the richest nation on Earth we don’t have enough masks, gowns, virus tests, and ventilators to serve our front-line healthcare providers in this coronavirus pandemic? Part of the answer is that the nation’s wealth has been mis-allocated between military and civilian needs over the past four decades.
All of the budgets that President Trump has submitted to Congress have called not only for enormous tax cuts for the wealthy, and resisting expanding Medicare access, but for cutting funding to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Center for Disease Control – agencies critical for the nation’s response to new infectious agents. Even though the administration has espoused an isolationist foreign policy, its rationale was the need to transfer our tax dollars to the Pentagon budget. But these are precisely the programs the nation needs in order to develop the tests, vaccines and therapies needed to control the coronavirus pandemic. These budget choices have hobbled biomedical scientists in key colleges, universities and medical centers in Massachusetts – leaders in biomedical research and development – and across the nation, from preparing and mobilizing for such outbreaks. And, of course, the failure to invest in healthcare and hospitals have left millions of Americans without adequate care.
Re-Militarization and Its Response
This mis-appropriation began in the 80’s, when in the name of combating the USSR – the “evil empire” – the Reagan administration sharply ramped up military spending. This was partially financed by cutting the budgets of the War on Poverty and Great Society programs established in the 60’s under President Johnson. We responded by organizing the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign which led to President Ronald Reagan meeting with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and both leaders signing the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Weapons. Though this was a significant step forward in lowering international tensions, it didn’t help the millions of Americans who needed support for housing, healthcare, or education.
Non-binding resolutions calling for transferring funds from the Pentagon to civilian needs were passed in cities and towns across Massachusetts and the nation. The Jobs with Peace and related campaigns had some effect on muting the Reagan-era war mongering, but only limited effect on Congressional appropriations for the Pentagon. However, when the Cold War effectively ended in 1991, we thought that the shift from military spending to domestic spending would proceed.
The Failure to Change Congressional Budget Priorities
In fact, we underestimated the influence of the military/industrial/Congressional complex, which was able to use billions of taxpayer dollars from contract awards to continue to influence Congress, media, academia and the nation in general. Following the events of September 11, 2001, hawks had a new enemy – international terrorism – to rationalize further increases in military spending. This threat was used to ramp up conventional wars as the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and expanded military bases around the world to the current 800+.
Under President Trump, the imbalance has gotten worse with Trump proposing in each of his Presidential budgets, not only additional tax cuts for the wealthy, but sharp cuts in budgets for domestic spending, with the funds transferred so as to provide large increases in Pentagon accounts. Congress has supported these priorities, with the current budget allocating some $738 billion to the Military, much of which goes to large corporations for new weapons. It also includes tens of billions for upgrading thousands of our nuclear weapons, threatening a new nuclear arms race.
What is Required for National Security in this Age of Coronavirus?
We need ‘Medicare for All’ and greatly increased investments in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation, and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) appropriation of $900 million for the NIH, $3.5 billion for the CDC, and $2.5 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority (BARDA) was a step in the right direction, but pales before the Pentagon budgets. In fact, as noted by the US Department of Defense, in the Trump administration ‘the Pentagon’s budget has swelled from $670 billion in 2018 to $712 billion in 2020’.
The hundreds of billions of dollars to be spent on a new generation of nuclear weapons won’t feed us, house us, get us to work, and won’t prevent or alleviate the coronavirus pandemic.
While the on-going CARES Acts that Congress is grappling with begin to correct the past budget austerity for human needs, the Poor Peoples Campaign wisely makes its demands to Congress. The Poor Peoples Campaign’s ‘Moral Budget for America’ calls for cutting $300 billion from Pentagon accounts and investing the money into healthcare, jobs and human needs programs the country desperately needs. The time has finally come for Congress to shift its focus to the real threats and that being the neglect of our collective well-being and instead to fund programs that will benefit the masses.
As noted in the US based Poor Peoples Campaign’s ‘Moral Agenda’:
“When confronted with the undeniable truth of unconscionable cruelty to our fellow human beings, we must join the ranks of those who are determined not to rest until justice and equality are a reality for all”.
Heather Gray is a writer and radio producer in Atlanta, Georgia and is a board member of WRFG-FM in Atlanta and of the Pacifica National Board of Directors.
Jonathan King is Prof. of Molecular Biology at MIT and Co-Chair of the Mass Peace Action Board of Directors.