We write to you on Veterans Day 2010, and just weeks before the expected appearance of a report from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, to urge you to consider a change of course from the skyrocketing military spending that is driving our federal budget and our economy into the ground, while producing ever more veterans from America's wars who need postwar care.

Many Americans do understand there's a priorities problem here: are you listening? When the Program on International Policy Attitudes surveyed Americans in 2005, 65 percent wanted the military budget cut. Majorities wanted war spending slashed but spending on veterans increased. Americans also called for increases for education, job training, and employment.

World Public Opinion

Where are these funds for jobs and education? It's obvious to Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz:: shift them out of the military budget.


Not all investments are equal when it comes to job creation. Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, of the Political Economy Research Institute, have collected the data. Each billion dollars of government spending invested in the military creates about 12,000 jobs. Investing this amount instead in tax cuts for personal consumption generates approximately 15,000 jobs. But putting it into healthcare gives us 18,000 jobs (and health care); in home weatherization and infrastructure also 18,000 jobs; in education 25,000 jobs (and a more competitive next generation); and in mass transit 27,700 jobs.

In short: over-investing in the military is not cost-effective if the costs mean fewer Americans working, erratic public transport, crumbling bridges, crowded classrooms, and youth deprived of essentials for development like arts and sports programs as well as reading skills and math.

You are under no obligation to vote on proposals that come out of the Commission's December 1st report. A House rule requiring a vote can be changed by passage of a new rule. You are the holders of a public trust with our Social Security. Those funds are not available for the funding of wars or anything else. Social Security is not in any danger on its own terms, and we strongly encourage you to lift the cap on payroll taxes and begin requiring people with large incomes to pay in at the same rate as those with smaller incomes. The tax cuts for the wealthy, a disaster for the common good, must also be allowed to lapse.

If you choose to attempt a balanced budget while respecting your obligation not to raid our Social Security savings and heeding Americans' demand for real job creation, rather than statistical smoke and mirrors, you will have to consider cutting the single item that eats up more than half of discretionary spending every year, and a greater share each year if long-term trends continue. America spends more money on its military than any other nation, and about 45 percent of all military expenditures world-wide. Of the 15 nations that account for 83 percent of this total, the United States spends more than countries #2 through 15 combined. Our total equals 72 times what Iran and North Korea together expend on their militaries.

If the U.S. really needed all that spending for actual defense, it would signal that we were doing something very wrong. In reality, most is spent on offensive war planning, futuristic weapons development, and excessive numbers of bases and operations around the globe that do not serve our security interests and that we cannot afford. These military priorities are draining the United States, not making it stronger.

We urge you to make us safer by shifting our investments from war to human needs.

The average people of our country, its backbone, are hurting. In times of hardship, they look for help from local, state, and federal governments: but there is little or no help, only cuts and more cuts. Military overspending doesn't trickle down from the top, it rushes down like a flood, washing away whatever is in its path. And now, not only the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens, but millions of people whose lives were prosperous and secure two years ago, are living on the edge. Are their needs to be sacrificed to an unsustainable, bloated, and unaccountable military budget?

Human needs extend beyond our borders. Americans are known to be personally generous in giving to people in crisis in other countries. This noble tradition is deeply undermined when the most and best our government has to offer them is sales of high-profit-margin military equipment, costly "exercises" with their militaries, and partnered "training" with their security services: when what people in these countries need are jobs, education, culture, health care, transportation, economic and personal development as well human rights. With money invested in re-training programs, too, for American workers in the weapons and security industries, rather than in just more "defense contracts," the US could begin really shifting to a peace economy and gear up to export many other kinds of expertise the world needs.

"Fiscal responsibility" isn't just a matter of abstractions: numbers count in real lives. We urge you to remember this, and remember us, with a robust vision of all the benefits that dis-investment in the Pentagon budget and the re-direction of funds, can bring.


David Swanson is the author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.