Mayors: Shift war spending to domestic spending


As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq linger, an increasing number of people are demanding the U.S. shift that spending to strengthen domestic human services and economic priorities.

Now, the U.S. Conference of Mayors is amplifying that sentiment. On Monday, at its convention in Baltimore, the mayors passed the first anti-war resolution by a major political group since Vietnam.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was one of the original nine mayors signing on to the resolution. Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, the past year’s president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, also supported the resolution.

It may be a game-changer on the political front, especially for the 2012 campaigns, but it will have absolutely no economic impact. Hunger and health care have never been an either-or option to war costs and defense spending. Public spending for stadiums has never been an either-or option for building schools.

The problems facing cities today, including small Minnesota towns, come from a lack of political will to meet citizens’ needs. In other words, any governmental response to common problems and human needs requires sacrifice by all citizens, including the politically powerful that have lost contact with that ancient World War II and Great Depression-era concept.

For example, as mayors began their convention in Baltimore, the House of Representatives, just down the road in Washington D.C., voted to cut food aid for the Women and Infant Children (WIC) program by $868 million, or 13 percent, from existing federal funding levels.

It also voted to cut the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) budget by 12 percent, reducing the FDA’s ability to monitor food safety. It cut U.S. support for international food assistance by a third, even as the United Nations and nongovernmental service agencies warned of a pending global food crisis.

Still, they voted a few months back to keep Bush-era tax cuts in place, knowing it would further enhance deficit problems.
At state levels, including St. Paul, lawmakers are protecting privileged taxpayer classes by denying state and local assistance to families of people laid off in the 2008-2009 Great Recession. Here in Minnesota, a pending July 1 shutdown could leave people without health care and other assistance.

More hardships are being created by state and local actions that are jettisoning college professors, school teachers, law enforcement officers and firefighters, and workers in government support positions that process licenses and assist with economic development.

Nationwide, 446,000 such jobs have been lost since fall of 2008, based on U.S. Department of Labor figures. Even if Minnesota avoids a shutdown, conservative legislative proposals will toss another 5,000 or more public workers out of a job (and more than 30,000 in a shutdown).

The National Priorities Project offers sites that show just how much wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing us.
Minnesota’s stake in these wars exceed $29 billion, with Iraq alone accounting for more than $18.8 billion.

The war in Iraq moved past the Vietnam War cost of $686 billion in 2009, exceeding $1.2 trillion to date. It is still climbing as America’s second most costly war after the $4 trillion— inflation adjusted—spent on World War II.

During the Vietnam War, when we still had a draft, young people were asked to sacrifice for their country. We didn’t ask taxpayers to sacrifice like they had in World War II to pay for those war time expenses. The result was raising public debt, inflation and a stagnant economy.

In fact, heading into Afghanistan and Iraq, Congress could have scaled back the large tax breaks they doled out just a year or two prior, especially for the upper income. However, then-Vice President Cheney tried to assure Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill that paying for the war wasn’t necessary. White House records show Cheney as saying, “You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.”

We’ve eliminated the draft and are now fighting two wars with volunteers who, with their families, are doing the sacrificing. The costs of these two wars, however, have been charged to our collective credit cards, or more accurately, to those of our children and grandchildren. Unlike World War II, Minnesota G.I’s are coming home to scaled back support for higher education and fewer economic opportunities.

Folks other than those at the bottom and middle of the financial ladder need to sacrifice in order to have a sustainable economy for all. We can’t keep protecting the top two percent of Minnesota’s earners while everyone else struggles.

Practically, war spending will not shift to domestic priorities. However, the mayors are to be saluted for seeing cause and effect links of public policies, such as unfunded wars. It’s just that the two are rarely tied in the real world of politics; connections aren’t made when options require the political powerful to make sacrifices.

Mayors Rybak and Kautz may have started something that will help fellow Minnesotans and fellow Americans see connections that many are trying to avoid. Just don’t expect enlightened public policy to materialize anytime soon.