The Alliance of Baptists joined more than 60 U.S. faith-based organizations March 14 to plead with Congress to redirect defense spending to bolster funds available for education, housing, health care and other community reinvestment initiatives.
The groups sent a letter to legislators asking for drastic cuts in military spending days after President Biden proposed an $842 billion budget for the Pentagon in fiscal year 2024, which represents a $26 billion increase over last fiscal year and $100 billion more than 2022, according to the Department of Defense.
But for the Alliance, the American Friends Service Committee, Hindus for Human Rights and numerous other Catholic and Protestant signatories, those figures are much too high, and they implored Congress to take the nation in a different direction.
“The country is sprinting toward a trillion-dollar budget for weapons and war — propping up an expensive and harmful militarized foreign policy while people struggle to meet their basic needs. We cannot continue down this morally bankrupt path,” the letter reads.
The faith groups advised a straightforward solution: drastically reduce military spending in favor of health and social programs.
“We urge members of Congress to dramatically cut militarized spending in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget — both to facilitate reinvestment in the wellbeing of our communities, and to curtail the harms of our militarized foreign policy.”
But it was the anticipated opposition of Congressional Republicans, not religious organizations, that had Biden’s attention when he unveiled his budget March 9.
According to press reports, hardliners in the House of Representatives are threatening to block efforts to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, which would send the federal government into default.
“If MAGA Republicans are using the threat of default for the first time in history, they’re risking America’s health and security. It’s dangerous,” Biden said, adding a warning against any attempt to use a debt ceiling tactic to interfere with military and other spending.
“We’re the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, and I will not let the Republicans diminish our capacity to cut the benefits to our servicemen or veterans and their families,” he said.
But the president also addressed budget priorities similar to the concerns expressed by the letter from faith groups. The proposal includes restoration of the Child Tax Credit, increasing Pell Grant amounts, protecting Social Security and Medicare and boosting infrastructure spending.
“My budget also invests in critical issues that matter to families — increasing the supply of affordable housing, lower rental costs, and making it easier to buy a home — all of which will generate economic growth and prosperity,” the president said.
In its own announcement of the budget, the Pentagon said the president’s proposal also contains funding increases to benefit military families.
“This budget includes the largest military and civilian pay raise in decades, and it builds on progress we’ve already made to make life a little easier by lowering every day costs, including by reducing the cost of goods in the commissary and making child care more accessible and affordable,” the Pentagon said.
Biden said it is his political opponents, not his budget, that Americans should worry about. “MAGA Republicans … don’t want things that particularly are going to help working families — like health care, education, public safety.”
“The sky-high war budget siphons resources away from investments in healthcare, housing, and education.”
The religious groups seeking to reduce defense spending said it is their faith that compels them to focus on the common good, to be reliable stewards of resources and to always push for a sustainable peace.
“The budget’s emphasis on military strength is in direct opposition to these moral duties. The sky-high war budget siphons resources away from investments in health care, housing, and education,” their letter states.
The letter also draws attention to the inherent evils of armed conflict: “War spending crowds out investment in peace-building and diplomacy, resulting in the loss of critical opportunities for nonviolent conflict prevention and transformation. And the constant waste, fraud and abuse at the Pentagon and by corporate war contractors siphons taxpayer dollars away from our communities and into the pockets of corporations. As budget negotiations begin for Fiscal Year 2024, our faith organizations urge you to cut spending on weapons and war, and to instead focus our national spending on human well-being.”
The president’s budget proposal is only that, a proposal. Ultimate budgeting authority rests with Congress.