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New Economy Transformation: Obama Budget Won't Help

February 16, 2012 ·

The military spending cut is real for the first time, but only about one percent of the Pentagon's total.

Two military policeman go through training at Fort Bragg, NC. Photo by Spc. Garett HernandezThe last decade’s surge in military spending has pushed military contracting deeper into the foundations of our economy. Reversing this process, and transferring the savings to support the green economy, are necessary components of the project to build the new economic foundation we need.

Here is a quick take on how little the President’s budget request, released this week, is going to help.

First a few bright spots. This budget is a milestone of sorts. For the first time, it offers less money to the military next year than we are spending this year. This is not the way the term “spending cut” tends to be defined in Washington-speak. Mostly “cuts” are made to last year’s expansive projections of the future. As in: the doubling of my salary that I projected last year didn’t happen, therefore I took a salary cut. All those military spending cuts referred to in previous years have been that kind.

With respect to support for the green economy, the budget does call for increases in spending on specific clean energy programs over what Congress appropriated last year.

Pull back just a little to see a slightly bigger picture, and things don’t look so good.

First, that military spending cut? It’s real (for the first time) but it’s about 1% of the Pentagon’s total. Not exactly transformational. The administration thought about eliminating one of our three nuclear weapon delivery systems (bombers, submarines, and land-based missiles); they thought about killing the most expensive weapon system of all time, the F35; they thought about having 10 rather than 11 aircraft carriers (no other country has even one to challenge them). They did none of these things.

And after next year the military budget will, according to plan, go back up. We will spend more in real terms over the next ten years than we spent during the previous ten. This after 13 straight years of increases. This while we spend more than the next 17 countries put together.

The Obama administration did invest about $80 billion in the green economy through the Recovery Act. But that money is mostly gone now. While their budget does make targeted investments—like $310 million for solar and $95 million for wind—overall spending on clean technology in this budget has almost been cut in half. The climate change budget includes, in addition to funding from the Energy Department, EPA money for pollution control, Treasury Department loan guarantees for clean tech investment, GSA purchases of fuel-efficient vehicles, and Housing and Urban Development funds for building weatherization. Those programs totaled $27.6 billion in the 2012 budget. In 2013 their allotment is $15 billion.

Of course, to the extent Republicans are in charge, this will be much worse. They want to increase military spending far beyond what the Obama administration has in mind. And they’re hoping that the trillion-dollar “sequestration” currently planned for 2013 will be allowed to fall on everything but the Pentagon budget.

Neither plan, needless to say, is transformational. For that, we have America Is Not Broke.