War, Debt and the President
by Amy Goodman
Published on Wednesday, August 3, 2011
President Barack Obama touted his debt ceiling deal
Tuesday, saying, "We can't balance the budget on the backs
of the very people who have borne the biggest brunt of
this recession." Yet that is what he and his coterie of
Wall Street advisers have done.
In the affairs of nations, Alexander Hamilton wrote in
January 1790, "loans in times of public danger, especially
from foreign war, are found an indispensable resource." It
was his first report as secretary of the treasury to the
new Congress of the United States. The country had
borrowed to fight the Revolutionary War, and Hamilton
proposed a system of public debt to pay those loans.
"President Obama's debt ceiling deal is widely considered
a historic defeat for progressives, a successful attack on
the New Deal and Great Society achievements of the past
century." (photo: U.S. Army / Staff Sgt. Brendan Stephens)
The history of the U.S. national debt is inexorably tied
to its many wars. The resolution this week of the
so-called debt ceiling crisis is no different. Not only
did a compliant Congress agree to fund President George W.
Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with emergency
appropriations; it did so with borrowed money, raising the
debt ceiling 10 times since 2001 without quibbling.
So how did the Pentagon fare in the current budget battle?
It looks like it did fine. Not to be confused with the
soldiers and veterans who have fought these wars.
"This year is the 50th anniversary of [Dwight]
Eisenhower's military-industrial complex speech," William
Hartung of the Center for International Policy told me
while the Senate assembled to vote on the debt ceiling
bill. Speaking of the late general turned Republican U.S.
president, Hartung said: "He talked about the need for a
balanced economy, for a healthy population. Essentially,
he's to the left of Barack Obama on these issues."
Michael Hudson, president of the Institute for the Study
of Long-Term Economic Trends, explained the history of the
debt ceiling's connection to war:
"It was put in in 1917 during World War I, and the idea
was to prevent President Wilson from committing even more
American troops and money to war. In every country of
Europe--England, France--the parliamentary control over the
budget was introduced to stop ambitious kings or rulers
from waging wars. So the whole purpose was to limit a
government's ability to run into debt for war, because
that was the only reason that governments ran into debt."
The Budget Control Act of 2011 assures drastic cuts to the
U.S. social safety net. Congress will appoint a committee
of 12, dubbed the "Super Congress," evenly split between
Republicans and Democrats, to identify $1.2 trillion in
cuts by Thanksgiving. If the committee fails to meet that
goal, sweeping, mandatory, across-the-board cuts are
mandated. Social services would get cut, but so would the
Or would it? The Congressional Black Caucus and the
Congressional Progressive Caucus opposed the bill.
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver called it
"a sugarcoated Satan sandwich." For fiscal years 2012 and
2013, the discretionary funding approved is split between
"security" and "nonsecurity" categories. "Nonsecurity"
categories like food programs, housing, Medicare and
Medicaid (the basis of any genuine national security) will
most likely be cut. But the "security" budget will get hit
equally hard, which Democrats suggest would be an
incentive for Republicans to cooperate with the process.
The security category includes "Department of Defense, the
Department of Homeland Security, the Department of
Veterans Affairs, the National Nuclear Security
Administration, the intelligence community [and]
international affairs." This sets up a dynamic where hawks
will be trying to cut as much as possible from the State
Department's diplomatic corps, and foreign aid, in order
to favor their patrons at the Pentagon and in the weapons
Hartung explained that the contractors, in addition to
having the support of Speaker of the House John Boehner,
"had Buck McKeon, the head of the House Armed Services
Committee, whose biggest contributor is Lockheed Martin,
who's got big military facilities in his district, [and]
Randy Forbes, whose district is near the Newport News
Shipbuilding complex, which builds attack submarines and
aircraft carriers. They used their influence to get people
on the inside, their allies in the House, to push their
President Obama's debt ceiling deal is widely considered a
historic defeat for progressives, a successful attack on
the New Deal and Great Society achievements of the past
century. Congresswoman Donna Edwards, D-Md., summed up the
disappointment, in which half the Democrats in the House
voted against their president, tweeting: "Nada from
million/billionaires; corp tax loopholes aplenty; only
sacrifice from the poor/middle class? Shared sacrifice,
The Project on Government Oversight says of the "Super
Congress" that "the creation of the committee doesn't come
with many requirements for transparency." Who will be the
watchdog? With the 2012 election coming up, promising to
be the most expensive ever, expect the committee's
deficit-reduction proposal, due by Thanksgiving and
subject to an up-or-down vote, to have very little to give
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
(c) 2011 Amy Goodman
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