Setting aside the important argument that war kills and health care saves lives, sustaining both is an unsustainable policy as both Senator Harry Reid Reid and Congressman Barney Frank know.
Frank has proposed a 25 % cut in defense to cover health care, and Reid, when asked, during a meeting in Las Vegas, how the federal government can pay for looming entitlement deficits for Social Security and Medicare while piling on another $1 trillion for health care reform, responded: “I hope all of you ask that when we talk about spending $1 trillion on a war of choice.”
Unfortunately, their voices are far too few. Most Republicans and far too many Democrats carefully avoid comparing the cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan to the nations need for health care. Indeed, even President Barack Obama prefers to say that additional health care costs will be absorbed by increasing taxes on the wealthy and improvements in efficiency. The Republicans, on the other hand, simply say that improvements in the health care will require tax increases for everyone. Both of these arguments are economic red herrings designed to shift the debate away from the real issue: increasing health care by decreasing defense costs.
The defense baseline budget for 2009 is $518.3 billion. Additional war costs are added to this baseline each year. For example, Congress added an additional $239.7 billion to the 2009 budget to cover the war. This brings the actual 2009 costs of Defense to $758 billion.
The Middle East war has cost the taxpayers $915 billion over its lifetime. This is 45.64% of the estimated National Health spending of $2.5 trillion for 2009. In essence, close to one-half of this years health care costs could have been paid for if that money had not been spent on the Iraq-Afghanistan war.
Neither party saves for a rainy day. Thus a more careful look at baseline defense spending reveals a department that has extended the annual 2009 debt by about $166.7 billion. The current defense baseline is, as stated, $518.3 billion. However, had it only increased by 3 % since 1997, the budget would be $351 billion. This $166.7 billion difference can be attributed to an aggressive defense establishment eager to purchase new weapon systems, and the congressional propensity to add unnecessary systems to the budget.
If we add the unnecessary $166.7 billion to the wasted $915 billion war appropriations the figure rises to $ 1.81 trillion which increases the percentage of 2009 health care costs to 53.92 %. Clearly, a harder line on defense spending would allow the congress and the administration to take a big bite out of rising health care costs with no real impact on national security.
A redistribution of funds from war to health is only the first step in decreasing health care costs. Unfortunately, current war spending is sunk costs that cannot be reclaimed. However, reducing defense by about 32 % and allowing only a 3 % annual growth rate would serve two purposes: 1) limit the propensity for war mongering, and 2) allow the annual distribution of nearly $166 billion (in 2009 dollars) to health care.
For those who argue that such a redistribution would ruin our national security, it should be remembered that China spends between $105 and US$150 billion and Japan about 42.1 billion on defense. Across the globe, China is second only to the United States in defense spending. Japan is fourth. Thus, three of the top four nations spend from $42 to $150 billion on defense. A 32 % cut in current defense spending would leave the United States with $351 billion, and they would still be the number one spender in the world. As a reminder, we owe China $739.6 billion (24.07%) of our debt.Japan is second. We owe them $634.8 billion (20.66%) for our debt. In essence both China and Japan are using money not spent on defense to invest in the United States debt. Together they own 44.73 % of the treasury debt.
The reason that European countries and Canada have better health care systems is simple: They pay less for Defense and depend on the United States to fight the wars for them. This allows them to spend more on health care for their citizens.
Reducing defense to an 3% annual growth rate would generated about $166 billion that could be added to the Veterans Administration budget of about $112.8 billion. This would increase the VA budget to $278.8 billion. There is some symbolism in making this adjustment. It says that if the Military is committed to warfare, they must also pay for the resulting human tragedies. Therefore, the President and the military would have to make a choice between continued improvement of the force structure (under a limited budget) or allocating the money to the VA to take care of the damaged veterans. Under no circumstances should they be allowed to grow their weapon systems and avoid paying for medical costs, which is the current situation.
Beyond symbolism there are real savings to be generated by increasing the VA. For example additional funding might allow them to increase eligibility requirements under The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) program which provides comprehensive health care on a shared cost basis. Additions to the Va could include:
-Reservists and National Guard members who have not been called to active duty by a Federal Executive Order, and, therefore, are denied VA care.
– Increase the eligibility to allow lifetime benefits for all spouses and children of any veteran, reservist or national guard member without regard for wartime service or age.
Many of those individuals are also covered by Medicare, or Medicaid and are also paying high insurance costs. Shifting major costs to the VA, funded through decreased defense spending, should lower Medicare, Medicaid and Insurance cost.
Both political parties are to blame for the imbalance between war and health care. However, between 1978 and 2005, Republicans increased federal spending 12.10 % compared with 9.90 % for Democrat’s. This equates to a very high 36.40 % increase in the Federal Debt by republicans compared to a very low 4.2 % by Democrats. Further, while republican spending only increased the gross domestic product by 10.70 %, the spending by the Democrats increased the GDP by 12.6 %. In the final analysis, a 9.9 % increase in federal spending by the Democrats increased the GDP by 3 %, whereas the Republican increase in federal spending, decreased the GDP by 1 %.
What people need to understand is that defense spending is a business. It is only marginally about protecting us from some enemy foreign or, god forbid, domestic. Keeping the defense-industrial complex profitable is the primary aim of the Defense establishment, congress, and former and, unfortunately, the current administrations.
Keeping defense spending on the rise, is accomplished by convincing people that war is necessary and therefore should be funded. Fortunately, the Bush-Cheney war has laid bare the real truth about defense policy: it’s based upon lies and innuendos sold to the taxpayer as necessary and to young people as heroism.
A major policy shift is necessary to minimizes war and maximizes health care. Unfortunately, if one thinks that the health care lobby is corrosive just wait until the defense lobby is activated. Somewhere, along the line of history, far too many of our elected officials have sold their collective soles to an industry dedicated to death and destruction at the expense of the nations health.
Implementing an unnecessary war, and paying for it with Chinese and Japanese money, while denying medical care to the Nation, is not only poor policy but it verges on racketeering and should not be tolerated any longer.
Center for Defense Information, (1997 Congressional add-ons to the 1997 military budget, at: http://www.cdi.org/issues/addon97.htm
Frank, Barney, “Cut the Military Budget II,” at: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090302/frank
Kosiak, Steven M., ” Analysis of the FY 2009 Defense Budget Request,” at: http://www.csbaonline.org/4Publications/PubLibrary/R.20080421.Analysis_of_the_FY/R.20080421.Analysis_of_the_FY.pdf
Office of the Secretary of Defense – Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009 (PDF)
Robinson, Jennifer, “Reid Hit, Feted at Business Luncheon,” at: http://www.lvrj.com/news/55332617.html
Siska, A, et al, Health Spending Projections Through 2018: Recession Effects Add Uncertainty to The Outlook Health Affairs, March/April 2009; 28(2): w346-w357.
The World Health Organization’s ranking of the world’s health systems. at: http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html
Veterans Administration, 2010 Budget Fast Facts,” at: http://www.va.gov/budget/summary/2010/Fast_Facts_VA_Budget_Highlights.pdf
Wikipedia,”National Debt by U.S. Presidential Terms,” at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_debt_by_U.S._presidential_terms
Wikipedia, “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act,” at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racketeer_Influenced_and_Corrupt_Organizations_Act
Wikipedia, “United States Public Debt; Foreign Ownership,” at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_public_debt#Foreign_ownership
A Defense baseline is calculated by adding 3 % each year to the Clinton $1997 Defense budget of $254 billion.
Reducing defense to an annual growth rate of about $3 % ($351 billion or 32 % in 2009 dollars) would serve two purposes: 1) limit the propensity for war mongering, and 2) allow the distribution of nearly $166 billion to health care. For those who argue that $351 billion is not enough, it should be remember, that China’s 2008 military spending was between US$105 and US$150 billion. This is the second highest in the world after the United States. As a reminder, we owe China $739.6 billion (24.07%) of our debt.Japan is second. We owe them $634.8 billion (20.66%) for our debt. Japan, it should be noted, ranked fourth in world defense spending in 2004-2005, spending $42.1 billion. Thus, three of the top four nations spend from $42 to $150 billion on defense. This is considerably lower than the recommended $351 billion for the number one spender; the Unties States.
Of the Congress approved supplemental spending, NPP analysis show that $84.8 billion is for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This includes Department of Defense provisions including Military Personnel, Operations & Maintenance, Procurement, and Military Construction; Department of State provisions including Diplomatic and Consular Programs and Economic Support; and Department of Justice provisions.
Previous NPP analysis have attributed 80% unspecified war funding to operations in Iraq and 20% to operations in Afghanistan. In light of the troop level reductions announced thus far for Iraq and increases announced for Afghanistan in 2009, we have made new estimates of approximately 58% unspecified funding to Iraq and 42% to Afghanistan.
Total war funding to date includes all approved funds for Afghanistan since FY2001 plus all approved funds for Iraq since FY2003. See CRS Report RL33110 May 2009.