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Action alert: don’t believe the hype

March 20, 2014

The annual ritual of raising alarms and tearing out hair over the tiny size of the Pentagon budget has started again, but don’t believe the hype.  There’s still tons of money in the Pentagon budget, and if we don’t act, they’ll find a way to add even more.

Take action to stop the Pentagon slush fund.

The proposed Pentagon budget for next year is the first one that meets spending caps set by Congress—caps that are still far higher than what is needed to keep us safe. But there’s another huge pot of unlimited money in the war budget, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund.

That’s right, almost 13 years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the US government has an unlimited fund for war-fighting. Members of Congress who are panicking about funding cuts for their favorite programs in the base Pentagon budget are going to try to shove those programs into the OCO fund even though they have nothing to do with fighting wars overseas.

We need to stop this backdoor attempt to waste our tax dollars. Tell your senators and representative to oppose the slush fund.

The administration is still deciding on the war budget, but they have offered a placeholder of $79.4 billion. That’s barely a drop from previous years, even though the highest estimate for troops in Afghanistan next year is 10,000.  Members of Congress will be tempted to pad that ridiculous amount with their pet projects.

We’ve had bipartisan support for reining in OCO funding before. Congress is starting to develop their version of next year’s budget, so they need to hear from us now. If we bring this practice into the sunlight, we can pressure Congress to stop this waste. Send your messages today.

 

The Pentagon’s lavish budget

March 13, 2014

There are a lot of myths flying around about the Pentagon’s budget released last week. Democrats and Republicans alike are lamenting supposed spending reductions–a story we’ve heard before. Despite the fact that all the hyperbole about the impacts of Pentagon spending cuts in sequestration has been disproven by the lack of catastrophe in the past few years, weapons spending boosters are going to be raising a fuss again. Our own Jon Rainwater has a piece in the Oakland Tribune this week going after these myths:

A raft of media outlets led coverage of the president’s Pentagon budget request with the notion that the Pentagon planned to “reduce the Army to pre-World War II levels.”

This is the sound bite that stood in for real analysis. Pundits missed the big picture, arguing over the wisdom of the reductions. The New York Times called the move “prudent realism.” The conservative Weekly Standard branded it “deeply unsettling.”

When people hear “the Army is being cut to pre-World War II levels,” they are thinking about military forces as a whole. But the Air Force didn’t even exist in 1940. The Marine Corps has grown exponentially since that earlier era.

After the post- 9/11 spike is trimmed, a force far larger than before World War II remains.

But the bigger problem with the reduction narrative is that the proposed $496 billion for the Department of Defense represents historically sky-high spending.

Read the rest here. I also spoke about the reality of the Pentagon budget in an interview with Mitch Jeserich on Pacifica’s Letters and Politics last week.

One of the silliest claims you’re likely to hear is that increasing the Pentagon budget is somehow necessary because of the Ukraine crisis. William Hartung dismantles this argument well:

The idea that more Pentagon spending equals more influence over the behavior of other countries is, to borrow a phrase from Samuelson, “manifestly untrue.” Vladimir Putin is not huddled in Moscow toting up the figures in the Pentagon’s latest budget proposal, and then using it as a guide as to whether to take military action. Nor is any other world leader. They are following their perceived interests, weighing them against the consequences that might result from any given course of action. Even if the United States were spending twice the half trillion dollars per year it now spends on the Pentagon, it would not have deterred Putin from moving into Crimea. The challenge is to find a mix of diplomatic and economic measures that can persuade Russia to reverse course and recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty. This may or may not work, but it offers the best hope for resolving the situation. There is no military solution, and to suggest otherwise merely distracts from the difficult task at hand.

Action alert: we need your voice now

March 4, 2014

Congress needs to hear from you now.

Today, the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has 10,000—yes,10,000—supporters on Capitol Hill pushing a hawkish, misinformed position on Iran diplomacy.

Don’t let this be a one-sided debate. Tell Congress not to undermine talks with Iran.

AIPAC has been the main proponent of the dangerous Senate sanctions bill that President Obama threatened to veto because it could jeopardize talks with Iran. If talks fail, we could be headed down a path to war with Iran.

You and thousands of people around the country heard the warning call and bombarded Congress with messages opposing this bill. The outpouring was remarkable, and we put AIPAC back on its heels. They backed off and said they didn’t support a vote on the bill at this time. But they’re not giving up. They’re still pressuring senators to cosponsor the bill, and to sign a similar letter that tries to micromanage the diplomatic process.

Show Congress the political stakes of jeopardizing this opportunity for peace. Take action now.

We have allies in Congress who are standing up for diplomacy. But they can’t withstand intense pressure from AIPAC and groups like them if we meet their aggressiveness with silence. Pro-peace groups around the country are mobilizing today, and we need your voice.  Take action.

 

Previewing the Pentagon budget

February 25, 2014

Next week, the president will present his 2015 budget to Congress (about a month later than usual). With elections coming up, there will be a brief window of time for Congress to weigh in.

While we don’t have all the details yet, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previewed the budget on Monday. The major thing it revealed was something you probably could have guessed anyway: it’s too big.

The Pentagon finally reconciles with the reality of congressional spending caps, but only for one year. Even then, it throws in a wish list to give Congress ideas about upping the Pentagon budget this year:

The US Defense Department on March 4 will propose a five-year plan that boosts Pentagon spending by a total of $115 billion over sequestration spending caps, according to multiple sources who have been briefed on the plan.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday will preview the plan, along with other key items included in DoD’s $496 billion 2015 budget proposal. The budget proposal ignores federally mandated spending caps between 2016 and 2019. Defense News has reported that the fiscal 2016 budget projection would be $36 billion over the sequester cap.

While DoD’s fiscal 2015 budget falls in line with defense spending caps for that year, the budget will include a separate $26 billion “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative.” The additional $26 billion would go toward readiness, the sources said.

Sara Sorcher at National Journal offers 5 things to know about next year’s Pentagon budget. They’re all useful to look at, but one in particular is a major issue that Peace Action West will be keeping an eye on and reaching out to you to take action on:

4. The wartime budget may turn into a slush fund.

The Pentagon’s overseas contingency operations account, which has been tacked onto the budget for years to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, could serve as a budget gimmick.

It’s supposed to be emergency war spending. But the OCO—which is not subject to the budget caps—may encompass other priorities that should, theoretically, be in the Pentagon’s base budget.

This happened in fiscal 2014, when th­­e cost per troop in Afghanistan skyrocketed to over $2 million from a remarkably stable $1.3 million in previous years, according to Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The Pentagon apparently added at least $20 billion—and Congress another $10 billion—to the fiscal 2014OCO account, for things not directly related to war, like depot maintenance for major weapons systems, and pay and benefits for service members not necessarily contingent on deployments.

The fiscal 2014 war funding request was $79 billion, for some 38,000 troops in Afghanistan. “If we see the troop level drop to about 10,000 in 2015, we should see a significant reduction in the budget—by almost a quarter,” Harrison said. If the cost per deployed troop is higher—even as the size of the U.S. force is lower, and the scope of military operations smaller—that’s a “good indicator we’re adding costs in there that don’t belong there.”

Victory! 104 representatives sign pro-Iran diplomacy letter

February 12, 2014

Thousands of you contacted your representative urging him or her to sign a letter expressing support for diplomacy with Iran and opposing counterproductive legislation that could jeopardize talks and make war more likely.

The letter came out today with a whopping 104 signatures. This sends another strong message after the Menendez/Kirk sanctions bill stalled out in the Senate, and will help blunt the momentum of any new bad legislation. Thank you for taking action!

See if your representative signed in the list below:

Dear Mr. President,

As Members of Congress—and as Americans—we are united in our unequivocal commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East would threaten the security of the United States and our allies in the region, particularly Israel.

The ongoing implementation of the Joint Plan of Action agreed to by Iran and the “P5+1” nations last November increases the possibility of a comprehensive and verifiable international agreement. We understand that there is no assurance of success and that, if talks break down or Iran reneges on pledges it made in the interim agreement, Congress may be compelled to act as it has in the past by enacting additional sanctions legislation. At present, however, we believe that Congress must give diplomacy a chance. A bill or resolution that risks fracturing our international coalition or, worse yet, undermining our credibility in future negotiations and jeopardizing hard-won progress toward a verifiable final agreement, must be avoided.

We remain wary of the Iranian regime. But we believe that robust diplomacy remains our best possible strategic option, and we commend you and your designees for the developments in Geneva. Should negotiations fail or falter, nothing precludes a change in strategy. But we must not imperil the possibility of a diplomatic success before we even have a chance to pursue it.

Sincerely,

 

1         Bass

2         Beatty

3         Bishop, Sanford

4         Blumenauer

5         Bordallo

6         Brown

7         Butterfield, GK

8         Capps

9         Capuano

10       Carson

11       Cartwright

12       Christensen

13       Clarke, Yvette

14       Clay

15       Cleaver

16       Clyburn

17       Cohen

18       Connolly

19       Conyers

20       Cooper

21       Courtney

22       Cummings

23       Davis, Danny

24       DeFazio

25       DeGette

26       DeLauro

27       Dingell

28       Doggett

29       Duncan Jr (R)

30       Edwards

31       Ellison

32       Enyart

33       Eshoo

34       Farr

35       Foster

36       Fudge, Marcia

37       Garamendi

38       Grijalva

39       Gutierrez

40       Hanna (R)

41       Holt

42       Huffman

43       Jackson-Lee

44       Johnson, EB

45       Johnson, Hank

46       Jones, Walter (R)

47       Kaptur

48       Keating

49       Kelly, Robin

50       Kildee

51       Kuster

52       Larson

53       Lee, Barbara

54       Lewis

55       Loebsack

56       Lofgren

57       Lynch

58       Matheson

59       Massie (R)

60       McCarthy

61       McCollum

62       McDermott

63       McGovern

64       McNerney, Jerry

65       Meeks

66       Miller, George

67       Moore

68       Moran, Jim

69       Negrete McLeod

70       Nolan

71       Norton

72       O’Rourke

73       Pastor

74       Payne

75       Pierluisi

76       Pingree

77       Pocan

78       Polis

79       Price, David

80       Rahall

81       Rangel

82       Roybal-Allard

83       Ruppersberger

84       Rush

85       Ryan, Tim

86       Sablan

87       Schakowsky

88       Scott, Bobby

89       Shea-Porter

90       Slaughter

91       Speier

92       Takano

93       Thompson, Bennie

94       Thompson, Mike

95       Tierney

96       Tonko

97       Tsongas

98       Van Hollen

99       Velazquez

100     Visclosky

101     Walz

102     Waters

103     Welch

104     Yarmuth

 

 

Action alert: time to choose: talks or war?

February 11, 2014

It’s time for Congress to choose sides.

We’re at a crossroads, and the decisions our government makes could have costs in dollars and even lives. We’ve blocked a bad bill for now that politicians and pundits thought was a sure thing. But with talks for a permanent deal with Iran starting up this month, our opponents are going to regroup and come back to the fight. We need to take it up a notch.

Tell your representatives to pick a side: Talks or War.

The administration, the intelligence community, and countless experts have told Congress that sanctions and other legislation that tries to micromanage the diplomatic process could cause the talks to fall apart. But some members of Congress can’t resist the temptation to rattle sabers at Iran.

We’re launching a new campaign to force Congress to accept the consequences of their actions. 

When you take action in the Talks or War campaign, your representative will receive a reply card to return to you with a clear answer: I support letting diplomacy work, or I’m accepting the risk of leading us to war by supporting unhelpful legislation. In addition to the thousands of emails Congress gets, we have organizers on the ground collecting handwritten postcards to mail in with reply cards. Congress will not be able to ignore the choice they face of leading us to war or throwing their support behind diplomacy.

For years, members of Congress have tried to claim they support diplomacy while doing things that undermine it. With the Talks or War campaign, we’re letting them know that they can’t pretend to be unaware of the risk they’re taking in making war more likely. Your message lets them know that we will hold them accountable for the choices they make. Take action now.

In our dozens of lobby meetings this year, we’ve seen that members of Congress are sensitive to responsibility for getting us into another devastating war after the Iraq debacle. We’re driving that message home so they’ll think very carefully about any action they take on Iran.

Thank you for putting the pressure on.

Action alert: time to go on offense

February 4, 2014

The momentum is on our side.

The Senate sanctions bill that Iran hawks sold as an inevitable victory is stopped in its tracks. President Obama used his high-profile State of the Union speech to mount a strong case for diplomacy and renew his threat to veto counterproductive sanctions.

It’s great that we can stop a bad bill. But now it’stime to go on offense. Tell your representative to sign the Give Diplomacy a Chance letter.

Thanks to you, and supporters of other progressive organizations around the country, we have generated thousands of letters and phone calls to Congress supporting the diplomacy with Iran. I’ve heard in Senate meetings over and over that they are hearing far more from constituents who support diplomacy.

Now Iran hawks are looking at the House and trying to learn the lessons from this losing battle. A group of representatives are circulating a letter that states opposition to any new sanctions while talks are ongoing. Sending a strong, proactive signal now can blunt the impact of any new bad legislation. Tell your representative to sign the letter now.

It’s one thing for members of Congress to stay off a bad bill. It’s more of a risk for them to stick their necks out on a tough issue like Iran. We think your representative could be convinced to sign, if you raise your voice and show public support. Take action now.

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