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Biden's Infrastructure or Military Spending?

Illustration by David Fitzsimmons on Cagle Cartoons.

Should Biden Pay for Infrastructure by Diverting Pentagon Money?

President Biden proposes to spend several trillion dollars improving national infrastructure, encouraging green energy and strengthening the economy.

Republican politicians favor some of Biden's proposals, but not the tax increases to pay for them. And they always oppose increasing the national debt when Democrats occupy the White House.

Most Republican politicians have unwisely signed the Norquist Pledgenever to raise taxes, and are therefore unwilling to discuss Biden's proposals on their cost-benefit merits.

Given the current Senate — 50 Democrats, 50 Republicans — Biden could still get his proposals though Congress. The Senate would either have to abolish the filibuster or use the special "reconciliation" procedure empowering a simple majority — all 50 Democrats plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.

Military spending doesn't protect us from all threats. Spend more on public health, and less on military, COVID may not have killed so many.

However Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin indicates that he won't support either measure.

Still, Biden's proposal is not necessarily dead on arrival. Manchin might still come around. Failing this, Biden could fund his program without raising taxes or increasing the national debt with an executive order cutting the Defense Department budget in half and reallocating the savings to pay for infrastructure.

Republicans would be in a weak position to object. Biden's Republican predecessor established a precedent that the White House can divert money from the Pentagon in order to pay for projects (like a Great Wall) it deems more necessary for national defense but for which Congress refuses to appropriate money.

Like his predecessor, Biden could veto congressional attempts to override his executive order.

Biden could plausibly argue that infrastructure projects will strengthen security more than spending the extra money on the military would. Improved highways and bridges, better intercity public transportation, encouragement of domestic production of industrial products, improved job opportunities and increased opportunities for social mobility will all make the U.S. more secure.

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President Eisenhower's major infrastructure project (1956) was officially called the National Interstate andDefense Highways Act. (Emphasis added.)

Reducing greenhouse gas emitted by power plants and vehicles will also enhance national security. If oceans continue to rise, U.S. security will be threatened by hordes of climate refugees, making recent border problems look like minor nuisances.

Although diverting half of the Pentagon budget to Biden's infrastructure plans might seem radical, it would just bring military expenditures in line with other major countries. In 2020 the U.S. spent $732 billion on defense, more than the combined military budgets of the next 10 countries — China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and Brazil.

Does anyone really think that these countries would all gang up and attack us?

Reducing the military budget would be a good idea anyway. It would discourage our leaders from sending soldiers into situations in which we lack ability to improve things for the local people, for the U.S. — or for the world at large.

Military expenditures do not protect from all threats. If we had spent more money on public health rather than on the military, COVID might not have killed so many Americans.

Diverting some Pentagon money to President Biden's infrastructure and green energy programs could give us better overall protection.

As Steve Bhaerman has noted, "If we lose the earth, there goes the GDP!"

It's useful to think about this, but President Biden should probably not employ this funding strategy. Rather than building on his predecessor's expansion of the imperial presidency, we need to strengthen Congress, not weaken it further with more constitutionally dubious executive orders.


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that "one hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration.," What if Senate Republicans go along with McConnell and if Biden cannot get Sen. Manchin to cooperate?

In that sad event, Biden should let the economy and infrastructure take their lumps, and let 2022 voters decide which party best serves their interests.

Paul F. deLespinasse