(March 28, 2019) — Trump wants to leave 31% of discretionary spending for all things non-military, while Bernie wants to move some unspecified amount of money from militarism to human needs, and Elizabeth Warren believes a budget is a statement of values.
Yet, to the best of my knowledge, no presidential candidate has now or within living memory ever produced a proposed federal budget, or ever been asked in any debate or interview, to even approximate — give or take $100 billion — what they’d like spent where, or even just whether militarism would be better at 70%, 60%, 50%, 40%, or 30% of federal discretionary spending.
A summary of what we know about current U.S. presidential candidates regarding peace and war is all pretty vague stuff. None of them have been asked or voluntarily answered any of what I consider the 20 most basic questions. The one exception is that some of them have suggested that certain wars should be ended, either immediately or in some vague future. But none of them has produced a full list of which wars should be ended and which should not.
If a candidate wanted to stand out from the crowd, if he or she wanted to take the lead and compel similar behavior from all the others, one easy step would be to produce an answer to the very most basic question that nobody asks. A pie chart in pen on napkin would be sufficient. Or four or eight of them if one wants to show a progression over future years. A 10-page report would be way more than sufficient to make major news. Including a report on revenue as well as on spending would be fine, particularly if a candidate is contemplating taxing oligarchs. But if you want to be president, show us your budget!
This can’t be a “people’s budget” from a think tank that skirts around the battle-ready elephant in the room. A candidate who tried to produce a budget without answering whether the single biggest expense was too much, too little, or just right would stand out only for the degree of dishonesty. I’m not saying that isn’t an impressive title to covet; I’m just saying I wouldn’t vote for such a person.
This is a test to separate the wheat from the chaff. Donald Trump and Captain Coffee would not, in this test, be distinguished as fascist and centrist. They’d have virtually the same damn pie chart. It would look indistinguishable from Biden’s and Beto’s. The question is whose would look different?
“A budget is a moral document.” What politician hasn’t said that? What person doesn’t understand that?
A global reverse arms race, facilitating the survival of humanity, is a moral goal unmentioned in any U.S. presidential campaign.
College and healthcare and school and pre-school and environmental sustainability are moral projects that produce only the following from cable TV: “But how would you pay for it?”
“See my budget,” is a better answer than “We’d find a way because of our Greatness.”
“That’s two percent of military spending” is a better answer than anything involving the word “taxes.”
It would cost about $30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world. It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water.
Doing those things would do more to make the United States safe than any number of tank factories one might tour on a campaign trip. Not doing them would be understood as crazier than providing a basic income guarantee, if and only if a candidate were to lay out a basic budget that could be compared with the current one.
Here’s Trump’s budget. He’s got $718 billion in the Pentagon (which has never earned the name “Defense”), plus $52 billion in the mis-named Homeland Security Department, plus $93 billion in Veterans Affairs. It’s not entirely clear where the nuclear weapons budget is on that chart, or the military spending in numerous other departments, or the debt payments for past wars, but we know that they push the total far over $1 trillion.
What should it be? What would each candidate try to make it be if elected? Who knows!
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Swanson was awarded the 2018 Peace Prize by the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation.