You might not know it from national press reports, but there are plenty of Members of Congress of both political parties who think that cutting the military budget is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and have concrete ideas for doing so.
(The New York Times did note last week that the leaderships of both parties are content to let stand the automatic cuts to the previously projected military budget mandated by the Budget Control Act.)
You can see that Senators have ideas for cutting the military budget from the list of amendments filed in the Senate to the National Defense Authorization Act, currently under consideration. [To weigh in with your Senators on these amendments, you can use the toll-free number established by the Friends Committee on National Legislation: 1-877-429-0678.]
Even if many of these amendments don't pass in the next few days, these ideas will still be nominees for consideration as the Pentagon considers how it wishes to cough up an additional half trillion dollars in savings from previously projected spending over the next ten years, as mandated by the Budget Control Act.
Shortening the war in Afghanistan by two years could easily pay half of the costs of an extension and expansion of the payroll tax holiday, the centerpiece of President Obama's jobs bill. Thus, the amendment put forward by Senator Merkley calling on the President to accelerate the drawdown in Afghanistan - which the Senate may vote on today - could make a significant contribution to creating more than half a million American jobs next year.
On Monday, Senate Democrats introduced legislation to extend the payroll tax cut. According to Majority Leader Reid, under the bill the average working family would have close to $1,500 a year more to spend. As the New York Times noted, "lower- and middle-income workers are the greatest beneficiaries of the tax cut."
Unfortunately, press reports indicate that Senate Republicans are very unlikely to support the bill, because to pay for the payroll tax holiday - which also would reduce the tax paid by employers - Democrats propose a 3.25 percent tax on gross income over $1 million.
From the point of view of the 99%, the appeal of paying for the payroll tax holiday with a tax on the very rich is obvious. As Paul Krugman has noted, the economic case for increasing taxes on the very rich is compelling.
However, if - as expected - the current Senate bill goes down to defeat due to Republican opposition, the question of how to pay for the extension of the payroll tax holiday will remain, so it makes sense to get some other good ideas for debt reduction which could pay for the tax holiday on the table.
If Senator Jeff Merkley's "expedite the drawdown from Afghanistan" amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act makes a strong showing, that could tip the Obama Administration towards a faster drawdown.
That would likely save hundreds of American and Afghan lives - not to mention all the people who wouldn't be physically and psychologically maimed - and could easily save the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars, at a time when the alleged need for fiscal austerity is being touted as a reason to cut Social Security benefits and raise the Medicare retirement age.
Everyone knows the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm." It's a great motto to try to live by. But unfortunately, in this life on Earth, "Do no harm" isn't always on the menu at the restaurant. Sometimes, you're already doing harm, and there's no feasible immediate path to zero harm. Sometimes the best you can do in the short run is to reduce the harm as much as possible. And if that's the best you can do, then that is what you must do.
It's not politically feasible, unfortunately, to end the war tomorrow. But we could take a big bite out of it in the next week. And that would save many lives and real money. [You can ask your Senators to co-sponsor the Merkley amendment here.]
Merkley's amendment (#1174) says:
1) the President should expedite the transition of security responsibility to the government of Afghanistan;
2) the President shall devise a plan for expediting the drawdown of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan and accelerating the transfer of security authority to Afghan authorities prior to December 2014; and