Don’t Cut Us, Cut the Pentagon!

A Toolkit for the January-February 2013 Campaign

Dear activists:

By March 1, Congress must take action to cut the federal deficit. This toolkit can help make sure they cut Pentagon spending, not programs for the 99%.


1. Message and talking points

2. Domestic programs that have already been cut and what’s happened to Pentagon spending in the same period

3. Pentagon items we can cut

4. To come: domestic programs we can fund by cutting un-needed Pentagon items

5. Military profiteers that want to cut social programs

6. Sample sign-on letter for local elected officials

7. Sample letters to the editor

On the New Priorities Network website you will find much more:

Our member organizations, especially the National Priorities Project, have still more.

The basic plan for the next two months is:

  • Make as much noise and be as visible as possible. We are building a national consensus that 1) the 99%’s programs must not be cut and 2) the Pentagon must be cut instead.
  • Make sure Congress hears the noise. Walk every letter to the editor, every photo of a banner drop or public hearing, every city councilor’s statement into your local congressional office, and forward them all to That way we can get them to your congressperson’s Washington office and to national media, building the consensus.
  • Use the moment to build local coalitions with every group that wants to block the cuts.

The menu of actions includes:

  • National days of local actions on January 30 and February 20.
  • Ask city councilors, mayors, state legislators to sign letters to Congress – and publicize them.
  • Public meetings on federal cuts and city budget shortfalls. (Get budget figures from city hall.)
  • Letters to the editor, press releases, statement, op-eds from us and elected officials.
  • Visibility actions, banner drops, standouts with signs,

Send us letters to the editor and reports on everything you do so we can publicize it —

Message and talking points

Core message for January and February 2013: Cut the Pentagon, not our programs!

Contributing messages:

The programs we use have already been cut. Now it’s the Pentagon’s turn.

At least half the cuts should come from the Pentagon.

Cut waste, not vital programs.

Talking points (adapted from Rethink Media, with thanks!)

Congress cut taxes. Now it’s time to make smart, strategic reductions in Pentagon spending.

Both sides reached an agreement on taxes.

While they should do a lot more to tax corporations and the top 1%, they are going to focus on government spending for the next two months.

That leaves them two choices. Either they cut programs we in the 99% use – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and a whole list of important social programs – or they cut a Pentagon budget that has exploded out of control in the last ten years.

More than half of the spending cuts should come from the Pentagon.

Americans overwhelmingly agree that it’s time to take a balanced approach to discretionary spending. The Pentagon makes up more than half of discretionary spending and it is simply common sense for the Pentagon to be more than half of any government spending solution.* Despite the winding down of two wars, the Pentagon still has the highest budget in real dollars since World War II. Its spending should be brought in line with our long-term strategic needs instead of allowing unnecessary or marginal programs to keep coasting on their own momentum.

It’s either Pentagon cuts or deep cuts in “people programs.”

If Congress wants to reduce the deficit, it needs to make big cuts in spending. And there are only a few big items to cut. Either Congress can slash “people programs” – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, food stamps… – or they can trim the Pentagon’s runaway budget.

People programs have been cut while the Pentagon has mushroomed.

Domestic discretionary spending – education, public health, food safety – has grown 14% since 2000. The Pentagon budget has grown three times as much without even counting the two wars. And since the housing crash in 2008, many important domestic programs have been cut.

Do we want to keep paying for this?

The Pentagon budget includes billions in outdated and/or unnecessary programs and is rife with waste. In fact, there has never even been a proper audit of Pentagon spending. Too much of our money is building weapons that don’t work to fight enemies that no longer exist. Cuts could start with:

  • The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Total cost is estimated to be $1.5 trillion – delaying procurement is not enough.  We should end the program altogether.
  • Nuclear weapons programs: We are slated to spend $640 billion over the next ten years on nuclear weapons (SBXX, MOX, Long Range Bomber), many of which are designed to respond to Soviet-era threats.
  • Defense contracting CEO salaries: The average salary of a top 5 defense contracting CEO last year was $21.5 million.  This is higher than almost any other CEO on Wall Street – paid for by American taxpayers.
  • Overseas military bases: The US presently spends billions maintaining large deployments in Europe and elsewhere that, strategically speaking, are Cold War-era holdovers.

There is no way to get the government’s fiscal house in order without turning off the running faucet of Pentagon spending.

Generals and national security experts agree that the Pentagon should be reshaped to be stronger and cost-effective.

The Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, a group of former defense officials, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, stated in a full page ad: “In previous eras, increased defense spending may have been required to maintain security. That is no longer the case. In our judgment, advances in technological capabilities and the changing nature of threats make it possible, if properly done, to spend less on a more intelligent, efficient and contemporary defense strategy that maintains our military superiority and national security.”

Brig. General John Johns (ret.) and Lt. General Robert Gard (ret.) wrote in a CNN oped, 12/12/12, “Cutting Pentagon spending recognizes that national security is more than military power. The United States is stronger with a strong economy, sustainable jobs, investment in education, renewal of our infrastructure and a sensible energy strategy. Continuing to waste money when our nation should have other priorities is bad policy and bad for security.”

Just as corporations that want to remain competitive need to become smarter and more efficient, the Pentagon needs to rationalize its operations and require all its contractors to do the same. Just giving more money to military corporations is not going to make us any safer.

If the Pentagon budget makes up less than half of discretionary spending cuts, it will be taking money away from other programs that keep us strong and secure.

Government spending doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  If the Pentagon budget makes up less than half of discretionary spending cuts, domestic spending will have to make up the difference.  This could mean less money for veterans, education, and jobs programs.


We’ve already been cut, now it’s the Pentagon’s turn

Since 2000 the Pentagon budget has grown three times as much as non-military domestic spending. The Pentagon grew 42% – not counting the wars – while “people programs” like education grew only 14%.

When the housing crisis hit and the economy collapsed, many domestic programs started to shrink. Here are some of the important programs that were cut from Fiscal Year 2010 to Fiscal Year 2012 while the Pentagon continued to expand.

Program What it does Cuts 


If automatic cuts hit March 1**
Community Services Block Grants Help cities keep senior centers, parks, and local services going when budgets are cut 3.3% 16.2%
Low Income Energy Assistance Helps low-income families heat their homes 32.0% 36.0%
Adult Job Training (WIA) Helps employers find workers; helps workers find and keep jobs 10.6% 23.5%
Community Service Employment for Older Americans Helps unemployed older Americans find work with businesses seeking trained, qualified, and reliable employees. 45.7% 53.6%
Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants Helps low-income and minority students get equitable access to effective teachers and principals, and helps evaluate them 16.3% 28.5%
English Learner Education Professional development, accountability, and innovative programs to help children learn English 2.4% 16.5%
21st Century Community Learning Centers After-school academic enrichment centers, especially for students in high-poverty and low-performing schools and their families 1.2% 15.6%
YouthBuild Helps high school dropouts finish their education and learn construction skills 22.4% 33.5%

*These numbers don’t include stimulus spending. If they did, some of the cuts would be much bigger. For example, Community Services Block Grants got a billion dollars in stimulus funds in FY2010 that expired the next year. If you include that, the block grants shrank 60% from FY2010 to FY2012.

**If Congress cuts domestic programs and doesn’t cut the Pentagon, these cuts could get much larger.

Source: Coalition on Human Needs, “Self-Inflicted Wounds: Protecting Families and Our Economy from Bad Budget Choices,” April 3, 2012, pages 25-37.

Pentagon items we can cut

“We’re Not Broke: A commonsense guide to avoiding the fiscal swindle while making the United States more equitable, green, and secure” (Institute for Policy Studies, December 12, 2012) recommends these military spending cuts as part of an $881-billion-a-year budget balancing plan. IPS says we should “Right-size the Pentagon to make the United States and the world more secure…. without hurting our national security largely by ending the war in Afghanistan, scaling back the sprawling network of over­seas U.S. military bases, and scrapping ob­solete and wasteful military programs” (p. 1).

Proposed reforms Potential annual  

savings ($billions)

End the U.S. war in Afghanistan 86
Eliminate one-third of the U.S. military bases in Europe and Asia 10
Eliminate military waste and unnecessary weapon systems:
Drastically reduce the nuclear warhead arsenal as a major step on the path to nuclear abolition 20
Stop R&D and procurement of unnecessary weapons 9
Eliminate two active Air Force wings and two carrier groups that are not needed to address current and probable future threats 8
Achieve savings from eliminating inefficiencies to reduce overall mili­tary spending, rather than increasing other Pentagon expenditures 28
Scale back outsourcing to military contractors by 15 percent 40
End Foreign Military Financing 5
Total $198 billion a year

Recent studies from the right, left, and center propose similar savings.

  • Reasonable Defense,” from the Project on Defense Alternatives, would reduce U.S. presence in the world by 40 percent and save more than $550 billion over 10 years.
  • The Stimson Center’s “New U.S. Defense Strategy for a New Era” identifies cuts close to $1 trillion over 10 years, which is almost 20 percent of the 10-year defense budget plan.
  • The CATO Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Center for American Progress, and Bowles-Simpson Commission have all called for deep cuts in defense spending ranging from $350 to $590 billion beyond the cuts already in place.

The consensus is: Pentagon spending can be substantially cut without making us unsafe – and it should be.

Military profiteers that want to cut our programs

When you click on Fix the Debt’s website you see eight ordinary working Americans. But according to “Operation Fiscal Bluff,” a report from the Public Accountability Initiative, the $60 million “Fix the Debt” campaign is a tool of the defense industry. “Fix the Debt” is calling for cutting the social safety net, not wasteful Pentagon spending. (They also call for more corporate tax breaks.) The report says that:

  • 38 Fix the Debt leaders have ties to 43 companies with defense contracts totaling $43.4 billion in 2012. Fix the Debt leaders profiting from defense spending include the group’s cochairs, steering committee members, and CEO council members; they have ties to these companies as board members, executives and CEOs, and lobbyists.
  • Boeing (with $25.1 billion in defense contracts) and Northrop Grumman (with $8.5 billion) lead the pack. Boeing CEO W. James McNerney, Jr. is on Fix the Debt’s CEO Council, and Northrop Grumman board member Vic Fazio is on Fix the Debt’s steering committee.
  • Four other Fix the Debt-linked companies have more than $1 billion in 2012 defense contracts: GE ($2.1 billion), Textron ($2 billion), Honeywell ($1.5 billion), and World Fuel Services ($1.2 billion).
  • The 38 Fix the Debt leaders with ties to defense contractors drew at least $401 million in compensation from the 43 companies in 2011 – an average of $10.6 million each….

Other reports say military contractors are less than sincere in their anxiety about jobs. While the Aerospace Industry Association claims two million Americans will lose their jobs if automatic Pentagon budget cuts begin, independent researchers found that the top five military corporations cut their own workforces over the last ten years – while their contracts from the Pentagon were growing and their profits rose 450%, adjusted for inflation. Military contractors overall laid off 106,000 workers in the past three years (see Top Ten Myths of the Jobs Argument Against Military Cuts). The biggest threat to “defense” jobs, it seems, is the corporations themselves.


Sample Sign-On Letter for Local Elected Officials

Please adapt this letter for state legislators, and if possible add examples of local programs that have been cut.


To our [STATE OR CITY NAME] Congressional delegation:

On midnight March 1, automatic spending cuts known as sequestration will take effect unless the Congress reduces national deficits by an equivalent $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. We urge you not to cut federal programs that support our city.

Vital programs including Community Service Block Grants, Head Start, Title I, infrastructure (water, transit, roads, bridges…), and housing assistance will be cut if the automatic spending cuts take place. They are also likely targets if domestic spending cuts are used to reduce federal deficits. These cuts would come on top of already deep cuts. Federal aid to our cities has been falling for at least the last two years and it is becoming increasingly difficult to fund programs for our residents at an adequate level.

This issue transcends party politics. And there are broadly supported alternatives to domestic spending cuts. By wide margins, Americans prefer new taxes and reductions in wasteful Pentagon spending to cuts in education and other vital domestic programs.

As the Congressional Progressive Caucus stated January 3 after Congress reached an agreement on taxes:

“With yesterday’s vote behind us, Americans face an even bigger fight in the coming months: funding our government, avoiding devastating cuts known as sequestration, and avoiding default on our country’s bills. The most recent negotiations saw a massive grassroots effort that successfully protected Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits and investments in the middle class. In the coming negotiations, we must continue the fight….

“additional savings should come from new revenue and the Pentagon” (emphasis in the original).

Sincerely yours,


Sample letters to the editor

See more talking points, letters to the editor, media tips, … on the New Priorities Resources for Media Work page.

Philadelphia Inquirer, January 4, 2012

Now that the ship of state has navigated the fiscal shoals, Republicans in Congress are sharpening their knives to make spending cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. But 60 percent of our discretionary budget goes to the Pentagon, and if you believe that’s not trimmable, I have a very nice bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you.

Think about the thousand overseas bases now run by the Pentagon. For what? Just imagine what that costs us. Remember, a base is not just a base, it is an entire community, with dependents’ housing, schools, officers’ clubs, bowling alleys, and more. And we have a thousand of them! Let’s make cuts there, not in grandma’s retirement pennies.

Walter Ebmeyer, Bryn Mawr,


Detroit Free Press, January 7, 2013

The fiscal cliff deal was both good news and bad news. The good news: 99% of Americans will see little or no change in their income taxes for 2013. Wealthy individuals with incomes above $400,000 a year will pay higher income taxes and capital gains, and dividends taxes will rise from 15% to 20% to help address the federal deficit.

Congress also agreed to assist low and moderate income families by extending unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit for a year, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit (for college expenses) five years. Most across-the-board spending cuts were postponed by two months.

The bad news is that within the next two months, some politicians have vowed to balance the budget on the backs of America’s most vulnerable Americans by cutting programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, housing, education and job training.

It’s tragic that Congress isn’t yet talking much about trimming the fat from the Pentagon budget, which has doubled over the last 10 years. That could make a sizable reduction of the national debt and prevent deep cuts to safety net services.

The jobs-not-war campaign urges Congress to right-size Pentagon spending rather than balancing the budget on the backs of America’s most vulnerable citizens.

Randy Block, Convener, Gray Panthers of Metro Detroit Royal Oak

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