Why Budget Parity Matters: The Need For Investing Equally In Our Military And Our Communities

By Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

Democrats and Republicans agree that we must fully fund and support our military.  But our military readiness is being hampered by artificial and unrealistically low caps on defense spending, as a result of the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, and that law’s required spending cuts known as “sequestration.”

In July, Defense Secretary Mattis testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee that “for all the heartache caused by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military than sequestration.”

This is a made-in-Washington problem, and we can fix it.  In July, I offered a plan that would have addressed the needs of our military by increasing defense spending by $54 billion in fiscal year 2018. 

But the devastating consequences of these artificial spending caps reach far beyond the Pentagon.  Constraining spending on non-defense priorities like infrastructure, job training, education, public safety and meal programs have been equally devastating. 

As an example, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our country’s infrastructure a D+ for 2016.  This was the collective grade for the roads, bridges, dams, drinking water and wastewater, public parks and schools on which we all depend.  We need real and effective investments to repair and improve our crumbling infrastructure across the country.    

This is why we cannot just provide relief for our defense spending needs.  My plan would have raised the spending caps for both defense spending and non-defense spending by $54 billion, an equal increase commonly referred to as “parity.” Much of our national security is funded through non-defense programs, such as caring for our veterans, the Coast Guard, and the FBI.

Parity is the principle that we can both strengthen our military and ensure that every child can access a healthy, complete breakfast and lunch at school.  It is the principle that our national security is intrinsically linked to the investments we make in our communities. 

Secretary Mattis agrees with this principle, and once famously said that if we do not fully fund the State Department, we should be prepared to buy more ammunition for our military.  

This is not an option between using tax dollars to stock pile ammunition or investing in programs that make the world safer by feeding starving children, that help other countries care for and protect millions of refugees fleeing violence or civil war, that combat HIV and other life-threatening diseases, and that promote democracy.  We can responsibly do both. 

I’ll finish with one last quote from Secretary Mattis: “America’s got two fundamental powers: the power of intimidation and the power of inspiration.”

We inspire the world with the investments that we make in ourselves.  We make sure a child goes to school without worrying where her next meal is coming from.  Because a hungry child cannot learn and go on to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a Marine, and accomplish her American dream.

Parity is the idea that investments in our security and investments in our communities are not separate priorities.  Parity serves the idea of a stronger America that tends to our country’s true and pressing national priorities.  We must meet our responsibilities, now, to our constituents, to our communities, and to future generations.  The stakes we face are too high for gamesmanship.  

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[Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.]

CONTACT—Jay Tilton: 202-224-2667