By Mary Zerkel
The children of my daughter's generation have spent their entire lifetime in a country at war.
She is just about to turn 12. She was born into an era of war that she and her peers rarely hear about, but the longest war in US history is quietly affecting their lives and future. Our entire country has been frozen in a brutal cycle of human and economic loss, with more than 6,000 US soldiers killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan and trillions of dollars spent on endless war.
But spring may finally be emerging. March 2014 marked the first month in over 12 years that there were zero US casualties among troops engaging in conflict - which should certainly be looked upon as a milestone. We have been drawing down our troops from Afghanistan and looking toward most of the troops coming home by year's end. It seems we could now begin to move forward into a new era focused on a truer version of security, one that addresses what we need to survive and even prosper: investments in health, education, and other social programs that have been starved during this cold season of war spending.
Sadly, like our elusive meteorological spring, that seems to be far off on the horizon.
The president's FY2015 budget proposal has taxpayers spending $549 billion for military programs, a 5 percent increase over last year - that's 57 percent of our federal discretionary dollars.
And that's not all. You might be shocked that this investment of over half a trillion dollars in military spending doesn't include war activities - and that war spending is also going up while the war is winding down. War spending is part of a separate budget known as the "Overseas Contingency Operations" (OCO) account. This budget is not subject to spending caps put in place by the sequestration process and has become a convenient slush fund for the Pentagon.
In fact, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in the FY2014 budget, the Pentagon moved $20 billion in operations and maintenance costs from its base budget to the war budget. On top of that, Congress added another $9.6 billion of base spending on salaries and benefits to the OCO. This allows the Department of Defense to avoid cutting wasteful pet projects such as the failed F-35, because they have transferred essential base costs to this uncapped account. And while this budget gimmickry goes on, urgent needs at home go unaddressed, and the debt the next generation must pay for wars waged "off budget" mounts.
By the end of this year, most of our troops will be home from Afghanistan after more than a decade of war. So why is war funding going up? Our country must switch its priorities to move the money from waging wars to addressing pressing human needs.
This tax day, April 15, a diverse group of organizations mobilizing around the Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS)/US Tax Day, are asking Congress to get rid of the Pentagon slush fund in the OCO. With the United States spending more on the military than the next 13 biggest spenders worldwide combined, worried hand wringing from the Pentagon and Congress about cuts seems disingenuous to say the least.
On tax day, I will be making visits on Capitol Hill with my daughter and 66 other young people from around the country who will be there speaking out about the disinvestment that their generation has been experiencing over the last 13 years of war.
They want and desperately need sustainable schools, up-to-date educational materials, after-school programs, food stamps for those in need, affordable college tuition, community centers and affordable housing - not more wasteful Pentagon spending. Join us. Tell Congress to end the Pentagon slush fund within the Overseas Contingency Operations account.
This tax day, let's turn the heat up and melt this slush fund away so we can help this generation and their communities bloom, grow and thrive.