Liberals seek $60B in cuts to defense

In its latest move to draw attention to liberal ideas, the Congressional Progressive Caucus will introduce a plan today to divert $60 billion in defense spending to humanitarian assistance, social programs, energy conservation, homeland security and deficit reduction.

Leaders of the caucus argue that the military funding goes to unnecessary Cold War-era programs and could be spent better elsewhere.

“I think it’s time for Congress and the House to talk about the huge amount of tax dollars going for weapons systems designed to fight a Cold War that doesn’t exist,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the 62-member Democratic group. “I don’t think people realize the billions of dollars that are being wasted.”

The plan, dubbed the Common Sense Budget Act, would direct savings in military spending toward humanitarian assistance and food aid ($13 billion), modernizing public schools ($10 billion), providing health insurance to uninsured children ($10 billion), energy conservation ($10 billion), training unemployed workers ($5 billion), homeland security ($5 billion), deficit reduction ($5 billion) and medical research ($2 billion).

Although it is highly unlikely that the Republican-controlled House will take up the plan, Progressive Caucus leaders said they hope it will be included in some form in the Democratic budget alternative to be introduced by House Budget Committee ranking Democrat John Spratt (S.C.). To that end, they are meeting this afternoon with Spratt and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

Some political observers fear that publicizing a Democratic proposal to cut military spending could open Democrats up to criticism that they are weak on security issues. But Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), the other co-chairwoman of the caucus, argued that the defense spending is not crucial to national defense, noting that a panel of military experts had vetted the Democrats’ plan.

“We’re talking about taking 60 billion away from defense programs we don’t even use. To me, that looks like Democrats are making sense,” she said. “If all you do around here is fear that it’s going to look like something you shouldn’t look like rather than something you should look like, then you’re wasting your time.”

“We can invest in our children and invest in the security of our country,” she added.

The large amount allocated for humanitarian assistance could be used in such places as the Darfur region of Sudan, Woolsey said. Pelosi and other House Democrats recently met with the Save Darfur Coalition, a group of religious and humanitarian groups.

The savings in defense spending in the progressives’ plan would come from cutting programs dealing with the F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft, the Virginia Class attack submarine, the DD(X) destroyer, the V-22 Osprey aircraft, the C-130 J transport aircraft and all offensive space-based weapon systems. It would trim programs such as the tri-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Army’s Future Combat System.

The proposals closely parallel a plan put together by Larry Korb, an expert at the liberal Center for American Progress who served as assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan.

Korb has been influential in driving Democratic policies. A report he wrote about how to draw down the American military presence in Iraq has generated significant interest in Democratic circles.

Korb will join Lee and Woolsey at an event this morning to unveil the budget bill. Also in attendance will be Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, founder of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.

The reinvigorated Progressive Caucus has been seeking to forge better ties with outside groups such as Cohen’s, following a model developed by Republicans to draw on the support of outside groups in pressing an agenda.