On Dec. 21, 2013, the BDN reported that Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins “hailed” Senate passage of a $607 billion “defense” bill. On the surface, this seems all well and good. But let’s take a closer look and crunch some numbers.
First of all, the $607 billion figure doesn’t include the cost of maintaining this country’s thousands of nuclear weapons. Nor does it count the cost of health care for veterans, many of whom return from our wars wounded in body and spirit. Nor does it count the entire cost of pensions for millions of career soldiers who could have worked in the private sector and earned private pensions.
But never mind all that. For the purpose of discussion, let’s just take the $607 billion of which King and Collins are so proud. With a U.S. population of about 315 million, that works out to about $1,927 for every man, woman and child in the country. And with about 1.3 million people in Maine, that works out to Mainers pouring more than $2.5 billion into this “defense” bill. But that too is OK, for we are assured that fully $100 million of that might come back to the state in the form of work on a destroyer.
And there may be some other minor returns such as infrastructure improvements at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and for the manufacture of military aircraft parts. No solid dollar amounts were given for these things, so let’s call that another $100 million, thus doubling Maine’s possible return on investment to $200 million.
That means that this “defense” bill about which King and Collins are so effusive and self-congratulatory may return a beggar’s 8 percent to the state of Maine — and it might return even less than that. The rest of Maine’s share, about $2.3 billion, will pour into the blackhole that is this country’s military budget.
Collins gushes that the bill “illustrates the importance that Congress places on our nation’s shipbuilding programs, which support the Navy in meeting its essential national security commitments around the globe.” But more accurately, the bill illustrates the importance that Congress places on war, for which shipbuilding is a necessary component.
Lest you worry that Maine will not actually get back its $200 million in Pentagon dollars, fear not, for Collins has bravely vowed to “continue to work to see that the money is actually appropriated.”
That will be a tough fight indeed, what with all the powerful forces that always line up to do battle with the Pentagon budget, such as the senior citizens who are told they must sacrifice a portion of their paltry incomes in the name of fiscal restraint and debt reduction while the Pentagon’s $607 billion budget is considered sacrosanct and untouchable by politicians and media pundits, whose robust retirement incomes are not dependent on the safety net they are so quick to shred.
Or perhaps Collins will have to do battle with the herculean lobby of the living-large unemployed, who just saw their benefits slashed so Republicans won’t drive the country off the much ballyhooed fiscal cliff. Or maybe she’ll have to arm wrestle the mighty food stamp lobby, whose tremendous might grows stronger by the day thanks to its robust $1.40 per meal.
When Collins is finished with that courageous battle, perhaps she might find time to work to see that the money is actually appropriated for the massive earthquake that devastated dirt-poor Haiti in 2010. Four years after that catastrophe, only a small fraction of the funds approved by Congress for that purpose has actually been appropriated. It would appear that carnage and senseless, futile wars rank higher than humanitarian aid on the Senate’s list of commitments.
Lawrence Reichard is a resident of Bucksport and co-director of the H.O.M.E. Co-op Learning Center in Orland.