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War: The Republican’s Real Priority

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In their “Pledge to America,” House Republicans promised “to stop out-of control spending and reduce the size of government.” But other than promising to repeal Obamacare, no specific mention is made in the Pledge about eliminating any federal department, agency, or commission. Indeed, the Republicans’ stated ambition was merely to “roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels.”

On the very night when the Republicans regained control of the House in the November 2 midterm election, Wolf Blitzer of CNN asked House Minority Whip Eric Cantor to name one specific program that the Republicans in the House were going to cut now that they have had a majority. Cantor couldn’t name one. Blitzer then asked him the question a second time. Again, Cantor couldn’t name one.

On March 17, House Republicans — to the shock and dismay of the world — voted to defund National Public Radio (NPR). The vote for H.R. 1076, “To prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio and the use of Federal funds to acquire radio content,” was 228-192. This would not have been possible had Republicans not regained control of the House, since every Democrat voted in the negative.

Every few years the cry is heard from conservative groups and Republicans in Congress that federal funding for NPR should be eliminated. These cries are usually in response to some news story reported or program aired on NPR or some embarrassing incident that relates to NPR that garners enough publicity. The focus is usually on NPR’s “liberal bias,” rather than on the deeper philosophical issues of the role of government and the nature of federal funding.

This most recent call to eliminate funding for NPR stems from the flap over a hidden video expose of an NPR executive that led to the ouster of the president and CEO of NPR, Vivian Schiller.

Conservatives were up in arms over NPR late last year because of the firing of journalist Juan Williams that led to the resignation of NPR vice president for news, Ellen Weiss.

Although I applaud the House Republican vote to defund NPR just like I would rejoice over the defunding of any federal agency or program, the attack on “liberal NPR” is just political posturing. Every House Republican that voted to defund NPR knows that H.R. 1076 has absolutely zero chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate or being signed into law by the president.

The Republican attempt to defund NPR is a little too late. Republicans controlled both houses of Congress for the last six years of the Clinton administration. Where were the weekly bills on Clinton’s desk “To prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio”? The Republicans had an absolute majority in the Congress for over four years of the Bush Republican presidency. Not only could they have defunded NPR, they could have slashed the funding for all public broadcasting organizations, like the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and abolished in its entirety the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

In the current era of over $3 trillion budgets, the amount of federal funding given to PBS, NPR, and the CPB, which funnels 95 percent of its federal funding to local television and radio stations to help purchase programming from PBS and NPR, is miniscule.

The CPB typically receives an advance appropriation; decisions on the amount of its federal funding are made two years ahead of the fiscal year in which the funding is allocated. In H.R. 3288, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010, which became Public Law 111-117 on December 16, 2009, in Division D, “Departments of Labor, Health And Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010,” under Title IV, “Related Agencies,” the CPB is appropriated $445 million for fiscal year 2012. This was up from the $430 million it was appropriated for 2011, but still quite a small number in the grand scheme of things, as well shall presently see.

On the same day — March 17 — that House Republicans voted to defund NPR, they also voted on H.J. Con. Res. 28, “Directing the President, pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, to remove the United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan.” The resolution is a simple one, and reads in its entirety:

Pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1544(c)), Congress directs the President to remove the United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan — (1) by no later than the end of the period of 30 days beginning on the day on which this concurrent resolution is adopted; or (2) if the President determines that it is not safe to remove the United States Armed Forces before the end of that period, by no later than December 31, 2011, or such earlier date as the President determines that the Armed Forces can safely be removed.

The resolution failed by a vote of 93-321. The Republican vote was 8-222, with one Republican, Justin Amash, voting “present.” The speeches on the House floor, as broadcast by C-SPAN, by Republicans against this resolution, that is, in favor of continuing the war in Afghanistan, were sickening. These Republican warmongers mentioned the attacks of 9/11, trying to tie them to Afghanistan, when all of the alleged perpetrators were from other countries and received their flight training in the United States. They mentioned the necessity of fighting al-Qaeda, when CIA Director Leon Panetta has estimated “there are only 50 to 100 Al Qaeda militants operating inside Afghanistan” and General David Petraeus acknowledged that “Al Qaeda has under 100 operatives or fighters inside Afghanistan.” It was leftists Barney Frank and the resolution sponsor Dennis Kucinich that had the logical, principled arguments.

If Republicans in Congress want to be “fiscal conservatives” and “stop out-of control spending,” I can’t think of a better place to start than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It costs $1 million per soldier per year for each U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. There are about 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Do the math. The Department of Defense uses 300,000 barrels of oil each day, 70 percent of which goes to overseas operations at a cost of almost $10 billion a year. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already cost over $1 trillion. Long-term health care costs for wounded war veterans have been estimated. to reach as high as $700 billion. By anyone’s estimate, the U.S. government is spending over $10 billion a month on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is $2.5 billion a week. That is $357 million a day. As of last year, war spending in Afghanistan now surpasses that in Iraq.

The U.S. government spends more on these wars in two days than the CPB receives in funding for an entire year. The real priority of Republicans in Congress is not budget cutting, it is war.

More important than the monetary cost of these wars, however, are the senseless deaths of over 5,000 American soldiers and the devastation the wars have caused American families. There are also the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans that have been killed by U.S. bombs and bullets that don’t seem to matter to members of Congress (Republican and Democrat) that keep funding these immoral wars.

Speaking on the House floor the morning of March 17, Congressman Ron Paul mentioned these two bills and predicted how the Republicans would vote on them later in the day. Said Dr. Paul about the war in Afghanistan:

It is a fruitless venture. Too much has been lost. The chance of winning since we don’t even what we are going to win doesn’t exist…. How many more men and women have to die, how many more dollars have to be spent to save face?… All empires end for fiscal reasons because they spread themselves too far…. How did the Soviets come down? By doing the very same thing that we’re doing…. If you are a fiscal conservative you ought to look at the waste. This is military Keynesianism.

Representative Paul predicted exactly what came to pass:

Fiscal conservatives were going to be overwhelming in support of slashing NPR and go home and brag about how they are so great fiscal conservatives and the very most they might save is $10 million. And that’s their claim to fame for slashing the budget. At the same time they won’t consider for a minute cutting a real significant amount of money.

Republicans are predictable. They predictably support war, interventionism, and the warfare state while claiming to be fiscal conservatives in favor of less spending and smaller government.

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