20 November 2021   2 comments

The debate in the US over the “Build Back Better” proposals of the Biden Administration which are designed to bolster the social safety net in the US. The proposal was scored by the Congressional Budget Office as of 3 November 2021. Spending was estimated as follows over the ten-year program as follows, in millions of dollars:

Total Changes in Direct Spending860,10689,54287,339174,313129,600117,91743,09255,04457,40663,5641,340,9001,677,924
Budget Authority117,474143,968193,539252,667233,285206,122176,256133,42191,95787,298940,9331,635,988
Estimated Outlays117,464143,930193,395252,298232,573204,982174,619131,18489,02783,571939,6601,623,044

The media consistently report the ten-year cost of the proposal which is $2,562,704,000, averaging about $256 billion a year. To put this figure in context, the US Defense Department budget for proposed FY2022 defense budget is $753 billion, a figure which does not include a number of budgets, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, which also should count toward national security expenditures. Fareed Zakaria notes: “U.S. military spending remains larger than the defense budgets of the next 10 countries put together, most of which are Washington’s close allies. The United States’ intelligence budget alone — around $85 billion — is larger than Russia’s total defense spending.” If Defense Department spending were reported in the same manner as the social spending proposals, the we would be talking about $7.5 trillion over 10 years.

Moreover, we know that a good percentage of the defense department spending is wasted. Fareed Zakaria notes in The Washington Post:

“It spends money on a scale that is almost unimaginable — and the waste is, too. Every government agency is required to audit its accounts, but for decades, the Pentagon simply flouted this law. In 2018, it finally obeyed, paying $400 million for 1,200 auditors to examine its books, yet it still could not get a clean bill of health. As writer Matt Taibbi noted in a brilliant 2019 exposé of Pentagon accounting, the auditors ‘were unable to pass the Pentagon or flunk it. They could only offer no opinion, explaining the military’s empire of hundreds of acronymic accounting silos was too illogical to penetrate.’ The Defense Department has failed to pass two more audits since then.

It is also misleading to talk about the Defense Department budget as necessary to support the troops in the field.  Most of the money is spent on military hardware and the specialists required to maintain the high-end technologies. The ordinary soldier gets very little of this money:

“About 14% of enlisted active-duty families reported “low” or “very low” food security in an annual 2020 survey, according to Denise Hollywood, the chief community and programs officer for Blue Star Families

“Enlisted troops appear to be suffering the most. A total of 29% of the most junior enlisted ranks of E1-E4, a segment that includes more than 570,000 people and more than half of all enlisted in the military, reported facing hunger over the past year, according to the advocacy group Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the U.S.

“In all, 160,000 service members struggled to provide food for themselves or their families, the group recently reported. A pair of Army studies found the problem was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those studies found that on one Army base, one in three reported being food insecure in 2019. The second study, done at a different Army base, saw that out of a sample of nearly 5,000 soldiers, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the percentage of food-insecure troops to almost double from 16% to 31%.”                              

The criticisms levelled against the “Build Back Better” proposals are incredibly distorted. At the same time that some in Congress argue that the money is not well spent, those same voices lament the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. And yet, after 20 years in Afghanistan, the loss of thousands of US soldiers and many, many civilians, as well as the expenditure of $3 trillion, the US did not realize its objectives in the country. Would those voices think that the money and lives in Afghanistan were well spent? Would they use the same criteria for success that makes them think that spending more in Afghanistan was a good investment as they do for a family leave program? Or pre-K education for our children? Or money spent to avert a climate crisis?

Posted November 20, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

2 responses to “20 November 2021

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  1. I appreciate this article – I wish there were more people offering such measured perspectives. Have a great Thanksgiving!


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