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Robert Greenwald

Robert Greenwald is a producer, director, political activist, and Brave New Films founder and president.

August 11th, 2011 12:10 PM

War Budget Cuts Possible If We Counter Contractors' Multimillion-Dollar Campaign Spending

The deal worked out to allow a rise in the debt ceiling gives us our first real chance in more than a decade to make significant cuts to our country's out-of-control war budget, but we are going to have to fight for them. The war industry is already deploying their favorite kind of stealth weapon on Capitol Hill to protect their profits: money and influence. Members of the newly-announced deficit committee have together taken around $1 million in campaign and PAC contributions from military contractors since 2007, and these companies plan to "cash in" on these donations to stop real cuts to big war contracts. That's why Brave New Foundation is moving quickly to launch a new campaign, War Costs, to counter their profit-protection strategy, and we need you with us.

The first way the war industry is working to influence the politics of the debt ceiling debate is through the mainstream media. Since the outlines of the debt ceiling deal were announced, various proxies for military contractor companies have been screaming in the media about the supposed dangers of modest cuts to our outrageously excessive war spending ($1 trillion over a 10-year period). These folks are not exactly impartial. In fact, the pundits given the most prominent billing in the press have deep ties to the war industry, and they need to be exposed. For example:

  • The Washington Post quoted a man named Michael S. Lewis, who said that the cuts to the war budget "would have dire consequences." The Post identified him as "an industry analyst with Lazard Capital Markets." The Post failed to mention, however, that Lewis is a member of the National Defense Industrial Association, which bills itself as "America's leading defense industry association" which aims to make its war corporation members and their products "more marketable."
  • In another story, the Post quoted Marion C. Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, saying that the deficit deal "dangles a Sword of Damocles over our national security." Of course, the Aerospace Industries Association's executive committee is filled with people like the president and CEO of Boeing, the president and CEO of Northrup Grummon, of General Dynamics, Textron, Lockheed Martin, get the picture. Blakey's bosses aren't exactly disinterested parties who look to him to make dispassionate public statements about defense spending.

Official allies of the war industry jumped into the fray as well.

  • The new Pentagon head, Leon Panetta, called the cuts "completely unacceptable," and said "the bipartisan panel should rely on tax increases and cuts to nondiscretionary spending, such as Medicare and Social Security, to provide the necessary savings." In other words, everyone but the war industry should take the hit.
  • President Obama's new nominee for chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said that the cuts were "extraordinarily difficult and very high risk." Of course, he might also have been thinking of the risks to his retirement plans, since around 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star generals take lucrative jobs at defense firms.

These guys want you to think that $1 trillion saved over 10 years (or a $100 billion per year cut every year for a decade) would be a catastrophic cut to the national defense budget. The truth, however, is that the war budget in the U.S. has grown so grotesquely large that the cut should actually be much larger. Just to provide some context:

  • Defense spending has doubled over the last ten years, and this cut does not remotely approach reversing this massive growth. In fact, even the above-discussed Michael S. Lewis says the cuts would equal only about a 7 percent reduction.
  • The U.S. spends 6 times more than the next biggest spender on its military, China.
  • The cuts contemplated by the debt deal are less than what we're currently spending per year just on one of the unpopular wars in which the U.S. is engaged, the Afghanistan War.

In no way are these cuts "dangerous," a "sword of Damocles," or "completely unacceptable," if what what we're talking about is the defense of the United States. If the U.S. military and the domestic war industry can't defend our country from people using box cutters and shoe bombs on a budget of less than six times their biggest-spending possible opponent, that means they have an extreme competence problem, not a funding problem. The truth is that we spend too much on war, we can defend our nation for much, much less than what we spend today, and the cuts on the table are absolutely reasonable. What's not reasonable is to continue funding an outdated view of national defense that requires garrisoning the planet, throwing hundreds of thousands of troops at essentially political problems and spending close to a trillion dollars every year to fight enemies who use homemade bombs.

The cuts would, however, put a dent in some war industry corporations' hefty profits, so let's be honest about what we're really talking about here. The war industry executives, their bought-and-paid-for allies in the government and think tank worlds, and the careerists at the Pentagon are worried about their gravy train slowing down. In that way, they're much like the super-rich heads of the other corporations in the U.S., manipulating the U.S. government into tearing our economic well-being apart so they can maintain the style to which they're accustomed. What you're experiencing is another attempted mugging by while collar criminals wrapped in the flag.

With their binge on the government dime imperiled, the defense industry lobbyists have been crystal clear about their intentions:

"There's going to be a focus on the 12 and a focus on the leadership and a focus on the administration. Decisions will get made by a smaller number of people than you learned about in high school," [said veteran lobbyist Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group, whose clients include major defense contractors and health-care firms.]

Other lobbyists have been more blunt:

"One Democratic lobbyist quipped that he was "preparing by writing 12 really large checks" as the best offense for helping clients.

The defense industry already has a head start: since 2007, the members of the new deficit committee have taken roughly $1 million in war industry contributions to their PACs and campaign committees. Here's how much they've each taken, according to

  • Patty Murray (D-Wash.): $276,200
  • Max Baucus (D-Mont.): $139,100
  • Dave Camp (R-Mich.): $130,800
  • John Kerry (D-Mass.): $73,500
  • Rob Portman (R-Ohio): $68,700
  • Fred Upton (R-Mich.): $36,500
  • Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.): $32,000
  • Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas): $29,000
  • Pat Toomey (R-Pa.): $17,100

It doesn't take a political genius to know that the corporations who made these donations will try to cash in on them, pressuring these officials to protect their contracts from cuts in the budget negotiations. That's why it's critical that we let Congress know that we understand the game being played here, and we want a process that puts the national interest, not war industry profits, first.

Brave New Foundation's new War Costs campaign is circulating a petition to House Speaker Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, urging them to force members of this committee to:

  • Stop taking war industry contributions, and
  • Publicly disclose all meetings between contractors and committee members.

Please sign the petition, and we'll deliver your message to House and Senate leadership this week. We also invite you to sign up to get email updates about future activism with the War Costs campaign, which in the coming weeks will take aim at the larger problem of massive war spending, the damage it does to our economy and the corruption it creates in U.S. politics.

This is the first real opportunity in a decade that we've had to make real cuts to the bloated war budget. Help us protect that opportunity by signing the WarCosts petition to fight the behind-the-scenes influence from the war industry on Capitol Hill.

Follow @robertgreenwald and @derrickcrowe on Twitter.

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