Washington is pushing the panic button, claiming austerity is hollowing out our armed forces and our national security is at risk. That was the message Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered last week when he announced that the Army would shrink to levels not seen since before World War II. Headlines about this crisis followed in papers like the New York Timesand members of Congress issued statements swearing that they would never allow our security to be held hostage to the budget-cutting process.
Yet a careful look at budget figures for the U.S. military -- a bureaucratic juggernaut accounting for 57% of the federal discretionary budget and nearly 40% of all military spending on this planet -- shows that such claims have been largely fictional. Despite cries of doomsince the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration surfaced in Washington in 2011, the Pentagon has seen few actual reductions, and there is no indication that will change any time soon.
This piece of potentially explosive news has, however, gone missing in action -- and the “news” that replaced it could prove to be one of the great bait-and-switch stories of our time.
The Pentagon Cries Wolf, Round One
As sequestration first approached, the Pentagon issued deafening cries of despair. Looming cuts would “inflict lasting damage on our national defense and hurt the very men and women who protect this country,” said Secretary Hagel in December 2012.
Sequestration went into effect in March 2013 and was slated to slice $54.6 billion from the Pentagon’s $550 billion larger-than-the-economy-of-Sweden budget. But Congress didn’t have the stomach for it, so lawmakers knocked the cuts down to $37 billion. (Domestic programs like Head Start and cancer research received no such special dispensation.)
By law, the cuts were to be applied across the board. But that, too, didn’t go as planned. The Pentagon was able to do something hardly recognizable as a cut at all. Having the luxury ofunspent funds from previous budgets -- known obscurely as “prior year unobligated balances” -- officials reallocated some of the cuts to those funds instead.
In the end, the Pentagon shaved about 5.7%, or $31 billion, from its 2013 budget. And just how painful did that turn out to be? Frank Kendall, who serves as the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, has acknowledged that the Pentagon “cried wolf.” Those cuts caused no substantial damage, he admitted.
And that’s not where the story ends -- it’s where it begins.
Sequestration, the Phony Budget War, Round Two
A $54.6 billion slice was supposed to come out of the Pentagon budget in 2014. If that had actually happened, it would have amounted to around 10% of its budget. But after the hubbub over the supposedly devastating cuts of 2013, lawmakers set about softening the blow.
And this time they did a much better job.
In December 2013, a budget deal was brokered by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray. In it they agreed to reduce sequestration. Cuts for the Pentagon soon shrank to $34 billion for 2014.
And that was just a start.
All the cuts discussed so far pertain to what’s called the Pentagon’s “base” budget -- its regular peacetime budget. That, however, doesn’t represent all of its funding. It gets a whole different budget for making war, and for the 13th year, the U.S. is making war in Afghanistan. For that part of the budget, which falls into the Washington category of “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO), the Pentagon is getting an additional $85 billion in 2014.
And this is where something funny happens.
That war funding isn’t subject to caps or cuts or any restrictions at all. So imagine for a moment that you’re an official at the Pentagon -- or the White House -- and you’re committed to sparing the military from downsizing. Your budget has two parts: one that’s subject to caps and cuts, and one that isn’t. What do you do? When you hit a ceiling in the former, you stuff extra cash into the latter.
It takes a fine-toothed comb to discover how this is done. Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, found that the Pentagon was stashing an estimated extra $20 billion worth of non-war funding in the “operation and maintenance” accounts of its proposed 2014 war budget. And since all federal agencies work in concert with the White House to craft their budget proposals, it’s safe to say that the Obama administration was in on the game.
Add the December budget deal to this $20 billion switcheroo and the sequester cuts for 2014 were now down to $14 billion, hardly a devastating sum given the roughly $550 billion in previously projected funding.
And the story’s still not over.
When it was time to write the Pentagon budget into law, appropriators in Congress wanted in on the fun. As Winslow Wheeler of the Project on Government Oversight discovered, lawmakers added a $10.8 billion slush fund to the war budget.
All told, that leaves $3.4 billion -- a cut of less than 1% from Pentagon funding this year. It’s hard to imagine that anyone in the sprawling bureaucracy of the Defense Department will even notice. Nonetheless, last week Secretary Hagel insisted that “[s]equestration requires cuts so deep, so abrupt, so quickly that... the only way to implement [them] is to sharply reduce spending on our readiness and modernization, which would almost certainly result in a hollow force.”
Yet this less than 1% cut comes from a budget that, at last count, was the size of the next 10 largest military budgets on the planet combined. If you can find a threat to our national security in this story, your sleuthing powers are greater than mine. Meanwhile, in the non-military part of the budget, sequestration has brought cuts that actually matter to everything from public education to the justice system.
Cashing in on the “Cuts,” Round Three and Beyond
After two years of uproar over mostly phantom cuts, 2015 isn’t likely to bring austerity to the Pentagon either. Last December’s budget deal already reduced the cuts projected for 2015, and President Obama is now asking for something he’s calling the “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative.” It would deliver an extra $26 billion to the Pentagon next year. And that still leaves the war budget for officials to use as a cash cow.
And the president is proposing significant growth in military spending further down the road. In his 2015 budget plan, he’s asking Congress to approve an additional $115 billion in extra Pentagon funds for the years 2016-2019.
My guess is he’ll claim that our national security requires it after the years of austerity.
Last week, State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) bulldozed the measure, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 75, through the upper chamber 39-11-06, a vote that included two Republicans - Kirk Dillard and Minority Leader Christine Radogno.
SPRINGFIELD-Senate Democrats plan to make an end-of-session push this week to “rectify an historical wrong” -- and perhaps give women a strong reason to go to the polls this fall -- by putting Illinois on record in support of an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Each step I take brings me closer to fulfilling my promise to help pass the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s a promise I made a decade ago to my late mother-in-law, the Rev. Katrina Swanson. (Katrina was one of the “Philadelphia Eleven,” the first group of women to be ordained as priests in these modern times in the U.S., after the Anglican Church of China.) A promise made by my husband and me to her in her last year of life. A promise, indeed a vow, and now a dream moving to reality we will resurrect and see enacted the Equal Rights Amendment.
Congresswomen Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo/Redwood City) issued the following statement today after offering a joint resolution to remove the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA was introduced into every Congress between 1923 and 1972, when it finally passed and was sent to the states for ratification upon three/fourths approval. Congresswoman Speier’s joint resolution has 109 original co-sponsors.
State Sen. Nina Turner said Saturday that she supports efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment but noted that more work is ahead in reaching equality. The Cleveland-based Democrat was one of several political candidates in attendance during an event hosted by the Progressive Democrats of America at the Adena Mansion & Gardens Visitors Center, where Turner gave a fiery speech to a full crowd about the need to support such a change.
A group of Progressive Democrats plans to push for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment with an event here later this month. State Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, will be the keynote speaker. Turner is the minority whip in the Ohio Senate.
The group, which also is conducting the event to defend voter rights, also will honor a local woman with an award at the event.
One of Mary Larkin's prized possessions is a beat-up, old, wooden cutting board in the shape of a mushroom, but you can't tell by looking at it that it is the product of a revolution.
It was made by Larkin's daughter Debbie, who was one of the first girls to take shop in Parkland schools after the district relented in the mid-1970s to allow them to forgo home economics and do woodworking instead.
Today SJ 78, a bill to ratify the stalled Equal Rights Amendment, was placed on the docket of the Elections subcommittee in the Virginia House. Could this signal GOP support for Constitutional pay equity? Even in the 21st century corporations continue to pay women less because they are women. Last week we learned that General Motors offered their first female CEO a salary 50% less than her male predecessors (the usual female pay discount is only 8%).
Rep. Victoria Steele’s (D-9) bill to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (HCR2016) was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee late last week. (You’ll remember that mid-week, I reported it was languishing on the desk of House Speaker Andy Tobin.)
There is an ideological perfect storm brewing in the Arizona Legislature. A memorandum supporting extension of the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has been assigned to a committee where five out of seven members have pledged to protect and fight for the rights of fetuses over the rights of women.
What I know about sports, I learned watching movies, but what I know about fair play and equality, I learned watching my parents. Although movies Based on a true story, have evolved closer to reality since William Bendix played Babe Ruth, the brain damage of inequality requires more than A Hail Mary Pass at equal economic opportunity and Justice for All to tackle an Equal Rights Amendment fumbled by a deadline for ratification.
In November 2014, Americans will be heading to the polls to vote in the midterm elections.
Women will be voting.
If Alice Paul had not been alive to fight for that right, women still might not have the opportunity to make their voices heard in the United States of America.
January 11, 1885 was the day this great American woman was born and it is on this day that everyone should take a moment to recognize and celebrate her brave and progressive life.
People are out collecting signatures to get the Oregon’s Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for women on the November 2014 ballot. This could mean a change to the state constitution to include language that specifically protects women. Oregon’s ERA for women has been out there several times before now, most recently before the legislative session in 2013, but it didn't pass.
Congratulations Rhode Island! Rhode Island is the first state to have 100% of their Federal delegation supporting our legislation. A special thanks to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator Jack Reed, Rep. David Cicilline and Rep. James Langevin. We appreciate your support.
Just a few weeks before his death, on October 11, 1963, President Kennedy received the final report of the President's Commission on the Status of Women. A direct line runs between the work of this commission and the establishment of the National Organization for Women.
If an Equal Rights Amendment were to pass, women would have the written support of the Constitution. Instead of women having to prove that they were being discriminated against, violators of the amendment would face a harsher reality, having to prove their innocence.
The benefits of ratifying the amendment are fairly simple. By passing the Equal Rights Amendment, the government would not only open doors of opportunity for women in the country, but also open them all around the world.
UPDATE: Linda Sanchez and Louise Roybal-Allard are now cosponsors of HJ Res 43. As Progressives we should all be outraged that of the 15 members of the Progressive Caucus from California, there are 5 (3) who have not co-sponsored Representative Rob Andrews legislation, HJ Res 43, removing the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Unacceptable. They are well aware of the legislation and we must alert them to this fact.
Targeting women’s right to vote may be the undoing of extreme governance and an opportunity to take care of constitutionally unfinished business for women – an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The newly declared war on the right of women in NC to vote looks to be the match to the fuse in the renewed push for passing an ERA.
A Major Victory for ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) advocates happened today as Senator Elizabeth Warren becomes the 32nd co-sponsor on Senator Ben Cardin’s bi-partisan bill, SJRES15 to remove the deadline to ratify the ERA.
In the spirit of Moral Mondays the Onslow County Democratic Party announced that this Monday’s demonstration on October 28th will focus on pushing back against the wave of legislation negatively impacting women’s rights to include the targeting of their voting rights. Demonstrators are civilly rallying from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm outside the Jacksonville City Hall at 815 New Bridge Street to support the passage of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) checking state laws that are eroding women’s rights.
“Seems like old times,” was former ODP chair, David Leland’s comment when we exchanged greetings at the Statehouse, October 2nd. Indeed it did. About 1000 enthusiastic women and men showed up for a rally entitled, “We Won’t Go Back: Stand Strong with Ohio’s Women!”
Women earn less than men. Compared to white men, Latinas earn 59 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, black women earn 68 cents on the dollar, white women earn 81 cents on the dollar, and Asian women earn 88 cents on the dollar
The new push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) continues to grow as word spreads about the effort to get the Obama Administration to take a stand on the issue of equal rights for women. The ERA 2013 Action Campaign and its partner, ERA NOW, seek to gather 25,000 signatures on an official White House petition to trigger an official response from the Obama Administration, now needs only 4600 signatures by February 9th.
MoveOn.org Petition - Congress Don't Renew Fast Track
Public Citizen Petition - Congress Must Reject Fast Track Authority
MoveOn.org Petition - Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership
CREDO Petition - Stop the Massive Corporate Power Grab
Enter your zip+4 and find your elected officials. This link provides name, address and phone number
Click on your state in the list to find out if your Senators and Representative are cosponsors of the Equal Rights Amendment. Then call and either Thank Them or ask them to support the legislation.
Sample scripts are below.
Thank You ScriptI am a voter in your district and the Equal Rights Amendment is very important to me and all my friends. Thank you for supporting equal rights.
Request SupportI am a voter in your district and the Equal Rights Amendment is very important to me and all my friends. Equality is a human rights issue. The Equal Rights Amendment has been stalled and we believe removing the ratification deadline will most the process forward. Please cosponsor SJ Res 15 (for Senators) HJ Res 43 (for your Representative)
We need to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the National conversation. Use our tool to send a letter to the editor of your local paper.
If your Senator(s) and/or Representative is not currently a supporter, they may not be aware that the legislation exists. Nothing sends a stronger message to a Congressional member than a personal visit to a district office by a voter with a written request for support. Phone calls and emails are incredibly important but nothing gets attention like a personal visit. Our Educate Congress page has information and a sample letter. Print the letter, sign it, deliver it.
There is no faster way to send a message to your Congress members than using our Email Advocacy Tool.
VA State Legislature
Marena Groll Moral Monday - Fayetteville
January 15th Progressive Round Table