There is for the progressively compassionate much to like about Pres. Obama’s newly released federal budget: more for the poor, less for the wealthy for instance. A raise in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. $300 billion to maintain what we have built. Money for full-time child care. Money for immigration reform. No cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. But, of course, since Obama’s budget proposal is mere poetry in the minds of Congressional Republicans (WI Rep. Paul Ryan calls it “a campaign brochure”), Obama might as well have written a better poem.
Unfortunately, the Obama budget cuts funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by another $25 million to $275 million, down from a high of $475 million in 2010 while generously funding the building of more U.S. prisons to the tune of $8.4 billion. (If we could put more Americans to work restoring the Great Lakes, we would likely have to spend less on locking people up.)
And then there is defense spending– down slightly, but still nearly a half-trillion dollars. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina thinks this level of spending “guts our defense.” Such concern for the profits of defense contractors is moving, for less profit will mean perhaps less lobbying and less campaign contributions to our senators and representatives. The waste involved in the never-ending production of the F-35 fighter jet alone (some $1.5 trillion so far) suggests that it is defense spending that is gutting our nation. But even this slight cut in defense spending is being countered by the Obama administration and the Pentagon’s call to increase spending on defense by 3% annually to keep funding the F-35,”Global Hawk” drones and “President Obama’s military strategy.” Will increased defense spending increase job opportunities? Sure, in places that make military hardware, but some have pointed out through research that defense spending does little to bolster the general jobs outlook compared to other forms of federal spending.
Also losing money under the president’s 2015 budget proposal include the Environmental Protection Agency (3.7 % less), the Small Business Administration (down not a small amount of 22.2%) and the department of Housing and Urban Development (minus 3.3%).
If this budget displays, as Obama says, our “choices” and “values”, than we are still a nation too enamored of a massively expensive military and prison system, still promoting war, unemployment and punishment rather than peaceable diplomacy, good work and rehabilitation. As a rule, we coddle greed and punish poverty, tolerate too much pollution and ecological ignorance, make life harder for women and minorities while creating more enemies than friends with our foreign policy choices.
So while Obama’s budget ain’t bad in comparison to what Republicans envision, it isn’t progressively poetic either. What’s required is a major shift toward a genuine peace economy and culture that invests in American people and places with local input. Many individuals and communities, as well as a few states, have already begun such a change in priorities, but even President Obama and many Congressional Democrats have so far been too slow to see the wisdom in it.
Well, we’ll keep on trying.
Postscript: Pres. Obama also cuts funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund which helps treat wastewater into the Great Lakes. Here’s a statement from the Healing Our Waters–Great Lakes Coalition on the budget cuts. To view some good news and see exactly how the Great Lakes are being restored along the Wisconsin shore, a slide show of “success stories” is available from Healing Our Waters.