Joe Biden, shown here in July 2020 during his ultimately successful campaign for the US presidency, speaks at a 'Build Back Better' clean energy event in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: AFP / Olivier Douliery

Last Friday, the US Congress passed the “Infrastructure” Bill, which will be signed into law post haste, says the White House. The bill, designed to upgrade roads, bridges, transport and broadband, is a bricks-and-mortar affair and will benefit industry and commerce. It is the first of two bills that have been the center of attention in the US for months now.

The second bill is the Build Back Better bill. This bill has provisions for childcare and preschool, elder care, health care, prescription-drug pricing, immigration and curbing greenhouse-gas emissions. This might be described as a bill for people, not for bricks and mortar. It has been the darling of progressives in Congress. The White House has now promised it will come up for a vote by November 15.

Whatever one may think of the Build Back Better bill, there is no doubt it is a shadow of its original self. The total for the Build Back Better plan was to be in the neighborhood of $6 trillion, as originally envisaged by congressional progressives, and then it slipped to about $3 trillion, and now it has shrunk again to $1.75 trillion – the incredible shrinking Build Back Better bill. 

It is woefully inadequate. On health care, greenhouse gases, family leave, education and other matters, it is little more than a stingy beginning.

Now look at the cost of “upgrading” and “modernizing” the US nuclear arsenal, a program that was originated by Barack Obama, after he got his Nobel Peace Prize, and has now ballooned beyond its original $1 trillion price tag to a stunning $1.75 trillion. No shrinkage there. For both main US political parties, no cost is too high to keep us Americans poised every instant on the razor edge of Accidental Armageddon.

Nuclear weapon “modernization,” however, is only one small corner of the total picture.  Let’s look at the entire military budget. 

President Joe Biden’s first budget for the Pentagon and nuclear weapons, for fiscal 2022, is about $750 billion. The spending on the Build Back Better Bill is to extend over 10 years, yielding an average annual expenditure of $175 billion. Biden’s “transformative,” historic” Build Back Better plan gets only 23% of the Pentagon budget – assuming the latter is not fattened up even more.

The situation is even more barbaric when we look at the entire “national security” budget, which includes the yearly budget of the 17 “intel” agencies and comes to $1.3 trillion. No expenditure is too great, it seems, to ensure that the feds track all our phone conversations and e-mails and harass every unsuspecting Chinese student and academic they can get their mitts on. It would take only 13% of that $1.3 trillion to fund Build Back Better.     

For weeks the mainstream US media have been burdening its audience with a grueling daily account of the Build Back Better bill, with tedious detail about inter- and intra-partisan quarreling. The basic tale is that US Senator Joe Manchin is standing in the way of all that is good, holy and angelic in the political world. 

True, but that makes him nothing more than a typical senator. However, the Manchin morality play touches on a simple but important question for those already feeling the limber fingers on their wallets of the insidious pickpocket, inflation. How are we to pay for Build Back Better? Regardless of which side of the question you come down on, cost constitutes an obstacle in influential quarters.

From all of the above, a compelling proposal emerges. A 23% cut in the military budget (or if you wish to cast your net wider, a 13% cut in the “national security” budget) would fund the entire Build Back Better Bill – with no more cuts. 

With a 23% cut for fiscal 2022, the military budget drops from $750 billion to $580 billion. That is still well in excess of the combined military expenditures of $314 billion for China ($252 billion) and Russia ($62 billion). In fact a cut of 50% in the military outlay would still leave it at $375 billion, still higher than the combined expenditure of Russia and China.

If an elected official cannot agree to that, he or she is either paranoid or a hegemonist up to no good. In either event. they should be barred from public office.

The military budget of $750 billion is now under “continuing resolution,” which means interim funding until a final vote can be taken in the weeks ahead. One needs no crystal ball to forecast broad bipartisan support for this piece of legislation. The only serious discussion will be how much to increase the amount. 

“Bomb Back Better,” if we might call it that, will sail through Congress and the White House as effortlessly as a vulture on the wing.

Common sense suggests we Americans transfer our hard-earned dollars from guns to butter, but no such prospect is in sight. Only one act is required to get to that promised land. We must not vote for anyone who cannot see his or her way to an ironclad commitment to a 50% cut in the National “Security” Budget – for starters. It’s as easy as that.  

John Walsh

John V Walsh, until recently a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has written on issues of peace and health care for Asia Times, EastBayTimes/Mercury News, LA Progressive, Antiwar.com, CounterPunch and others.