BRUNSWICK, Maine — In an area defined, in part, by shipbuilding and the 60-year legacy of a former air base, many would be cautious in broaching the subject of cutting military spending.
Not so, for former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who called for decreased spending and investment elsewhere. Frank spoke Monday at Fort Andross in Brunswick, as part of the Frances Perkins Center’s annual public policy forum.
“When they closed the air station, did you notice any deterioration in your security?” Frank said, in response to a question about the impact of military spending cuts on jobs. “The point is this: The military is not a jobs program.”
Frank noted that there are fewer public sector jobs than there were five years ago. Diverting funds from military spending to infrastructure projects would help create jobs in those areas, he said.
“Why aren’t people upset about job losses with teachers or cops or public works employees, or any of the other programs that are cut back?” asked Frank.
“It’s not healthy for society,” he said, to spend funds on weapons in the name of jobs. “Keeping open Bath Iron Works probably is part of the reason there’s cuts in other areas.”
Frank, instead, advocated spending on projects to benefit public works employees, teachers and the environment.
“In general, military spending is probably less bang for the buck,” said Frank, suggesting that most of the defense department’s budget is spent outside the United States.
Frank noted the U.S. military is larger than the next 10 nations combined. Russia, he said, could not match U.S. military power, and China was still years behind in naval power.
The former congressman dismissed what he called neo-conservative “self-interest reasons” for high amounts of military spending, and similarly dismissed arguments in favor of what he called a “worldwide Navy” needed to keep shipping lanes open.
“Who could be the threat? Why would the Chinese want to stop trade with America?” Frank said.
The U.S. military cannot resolve conflicts between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, nor can it stop corruption in Afghanistan, Frank argued.
Frank served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 2013. One of Frank’s last achievements in Congress was authoring the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, a sweeping piece of legislation written in the midst of the financial and banking crisis.
And while Frank, a Democrat, spoke about domestic matters — including health care — and defended several of President Barack Obama’s policies, much of the discussion centered on military spending.
State Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, whose district represents Freeport, Brunswick, Harpswell and Pownal, attended the discussion Monday.
When asked his opinion of Frank’s proposals, Gerzofsky said he was more concerned about the state of veterans programs, noting that after Brunswick Naval Air Station closed, an unsuccessful attempt was made to reserve some base housing for homeless veterans.
“I would like to see some of that money diverted to them,” said Gerzofsky. “There’s only so much you can do with weapons. If you’re going to pick a fight, take care of the people who are coming home.”