Let’s Talk About Priorities

The other day I spent some time looking at the answers that my opponents in this race had provided to one of the many on-line surveys we are asked to fill out in the run up to the General Election.

It was a very simple survey, allowing for only multiple choice answers.  What struck me as I went through their responses is that every issue was “Very Important,” as was every investment and every institution.  One of the things I learned in business was pretty simple, if everything is a priority, then nothing is really your priority and nothing gets done.  And that is a result that is getting all too familiar.

So let’s talk about priorities for a moment.  Like the spending priorities as described in our 2010 Federal Budget.

Leaving out the $2 trillion dollars in “mandatory” spending for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other fixed entitlement programs; let’s take a look at the Discretionary Budget for fiscal 2010.  Without accounting for any “stimulus” spending, here’s what it looks like:

Defense                           $577,245,000,000
Iraq & Afghanistan             128,000,000,000
Veterans                            109,600,000,000
Health                                 80,466,000,000
Transportation                     57,540,000,000
Science & Energy                52,124,000,000
International Affairs              51,235,000,000
Education                            46,686,000,000
Housing                               43,719,000,000
General Government             43,203,000,000
Justice                                 30,627,000,000
Environment                         27,618,000,000
Agriculture                           25,661,000,000
Community Dev.                   27,824,000,000
Total:                            $1,301,548,000,000

I don’t know about you, but those don’t look like my priorities, how about yours?

Defense is the easiest target.  At 46.5% of the world’s total in military spending, the US now spends roughly the same as the rest of the world combined.  Military spending outside our borders and the export of American wealth that goes with it is in large part responsible for the deficit spending we have employed for years.  I know a little about the value of a military base first hand, as I grew up outside the gate of an Air Force base and saw first hand what it meant to the community’s economy when it was closed.  I ‘m not simply wishing that same fate on towns all over the world, but that’s our money and we need to keep it home.

And speaking of home, when we bring Veterans home, their benefits shouldn’t be in the Discretionary Spending category.  More than anyone else, they earned them.  This line needs to be switched to the Mandatory Spending budget line, where it belongs.

If I was going to propose a top line Federal Budget that reflected the priorities of the people I speak to, I believe it would look a little bit more like this:

Defense                           $300,000,000,000
Health                               168,000,000,000
Veterans                          Moved to Mandatory
Science and Energy           104,000,000,000
Transportation                    99,000,000.000
Education                           89,000,000,000
Agricultural                        51,000,000,000
International Affairs            43,550,000,000
Environment                      38,000,000,000
Housing                             36,000,000,000
Justice                               35,000,000,000
Community Dev                 23,000,000,000
General Govt                      22,000,000,000
Iraq / Afghanistan                 5,000,000,000
New Total                         $101,355,000,000
What we’d get from this:

  • An immediate 15% budget cut, with actual budget increases for many Federal Departments
  • A drastic cut in defense spending. We’d have to get by on only 35% or so of the world’s military spending for now.
  • Incentives – in the form of shifted government spending priorities – for technology companies to move from defense technologies to those that will improve quality of life, not destroy it.
  • More money for Health Care in the form of research, direct benefits and training of new doctors.
  • An immediate investment in energy, both new alternatives and in efficiency for existing investments
  • A shift from road spending to light rail between close population centers (e.g. commuter routes between Midland – Saginaw – Bay City).
  • An immediate increase in education spending to help cash strapped schools.
  • Increased investments in agricultural infrastructure
  • An increase in funding to fight corruption and white collar crime
  • Large reductions in “General Government” and only enough money for Iraq and Afghanistan to get the heck out of there.

Some might ask about the decrease in Community Development money.  That particular item is as symbolic as the large cut on the Defense line.  The current budget model requires that we send money to Washington so they could decide how it should be spent when they send it back to our local community.  The budget model I propose includes around $200 billion in reduced spending (remembering that we are guaranteeing Veteran’s as it shifts to the Mandatory Spending).  That $200 billion will stay at home and we can spend doing out own community building.

I know as much as anyone that the devil is in the details and there is always that little issue of execution, but this is where I’d start.  It might not be an exact reflection of my priorities, but it is far closer than the current budget.  From what I am gathering on the “campaign trail” it’s probably closer to the opinion of the average American, as well.