By Lindsay Koshgarian
After two decades of war—and nearly two years into a pandemic that just won’t end—it feels like our country is at a fork in the road. Down one way, we reinvest in our families and communities. Down the other, we follow a status quo that’s left too many Americans vulnerable.
At this crossroads, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a key figure in congressional negotiations, asked : “At some point, all of us, regardless of party, must ask the simple question: How much is enough?”
Manchin was talking about the Build Back Better plan, the package of spending on health care, child care, paid family leave, community college, and climate initiatives that he has advocated cutting by more than half.
Question of priorities
Unfortunately, this isn’t a case of a lawmaker looking to be a good steward of federal dollars. Like most of his peers, Manchin is fine with spending money—the question is what we spend it on.
The full Build Back Better plan has received widespread coverage for costing $3.5 trillion. But that’s the cost over 10 years, and it would be mostly paid for by fairer taxes on corporations and the very rich. Under pressure from Manchin and fellow Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Democrats now expect to advance a reconciliation measure coming in at or under $2 trillion.
What Manchin and others haven’t mentioned is that at the same time they’re looking to limit investments at home, they’ve supported a Pentagon budget of at least $7.5 trillion over the same 10-year period —twice the cost of the full Build Back Better plan.
So this isn’t ultimately a fight over spending. It’s a fight over priorities.
Who would lose
Here’s who would be left out by Manchin’s proposed cuts to the Build Back Better plan.
A bill reduced to Manchin’s preferred $1.5 trillion level would nix nearly 2 million new jobs compared to a bill totaling $3.5 trillion. And Manchin’s wish to nix clean electricity investments not only nixes new jobs , it also protects moneyed interests in fossil fuels, including his own coal company .
Manchin has also suggested much stricter requirements for the expanded child tax credit, which has lifted millions of children out of poverty. Manchin’s cuts threaten to plunge them back in. Meanwhile millions of seniors who could gain dental, health and vision coverage through Medicare are reportedly on Manchin’s chopping block, too.
What would happen if Manchin and others took Pentagon spending this seriously?
Cuts but no sacrifice
Critics of the Pentagon budget on both the right and left have identified concrete cuts that could dramatically bring down the annual cost of Pentagon spending without sacrificing national security—by anywhere from $80 billion to $200 billion or $350 billion .
In 2019, I co-wrote a study that found $350 billion in annual Pentagon cuts that we could achieve while keeping the U.S. as safe as ever. That level of cuts could fully fund the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package all by itself.
Where could we cut? Well, start with the money we spent on the 20-year war on Afghanistan , which caused more than 200,000 deaths, cost more than $2 trillion, and still failed to prevent the collapse of the country or provide any lasting security benefits.