Our guest blogger is Ben Smithgall, an external affairs intern at the Center for American Progress.
Last month, the House Appropriations Committee agreed to a defense appropriations bill that would ultimately give the Pentagon $544 billion next year. This week, as the full chamber debates the bill, the House should take a long look at the proposal and ask what the nation truly needs to defend itself today.
The Defense Department’s budget request calls for $24 billion to be invested in Shipbuilding and Maritime Systems. Of these funds, $3.2 billion is to be invested in the construction of two new first-rate Virginia-class nuclear powered submarines. The true value in these boats lies in “deep ocean anti-submarine warfare.”
However, it’s unclear what practical value these submarines will serve. These subs probably aren’t particularly useful in combating non-existent al Qaeda and Taliban submarines on missions taking place in land-locked Afghanistan. Moreover, as CAP’s Larry Korb, Laura Conley, and Alex Rothman noted, “The U.S. Navy currently possesses more firepower than the next 20 largest navies combined — many of which are U.S. allies.” The U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers. In comparison, Italy, the second largest carrier fleet, maintains two. Yet, the Navy has shown no desire to cut the production of these vessels.
Meanwhile, in his recent address laying out his Afghanistan policy, President Obama said, “America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.”
Yet spending billions on an impractical submarine would mean that the U.S. is not focusing on nation building here at home. As Korb and Conley wrote last year, cutting back on the Virginia class sub can save nearly $3 billion:
Current production plans call for increasing the buy of Virginia-class submarines from one per year in FY 2010 to two subs per year from FY 2011 to FY 2015. Keeping Virginia-class vessel production steady at one per year through 2015 or 2016 — rather than ramping up to two submarines per year as currently planned — is a sensible step toward keeping defense spending under control that would also keep the Virginia-class production lines in business and not jeopardize national security if we re-core some of the Los Angeles-class vessels.
Instead of looking for responsible ways to change the defense budget and save money, the House cut the WIC nutrition program, which provides nutritious foods, counseling on healthy eating, and health referrals to low-income Americans. The move would force between 300,000 and 450,000 Americans to forgo these health and wellness services. For the cost of one-half of one of these submarines, the proposed cuts on WIC could be halted, and people in need would not be forced away from the program. Time and again, WIC has been documented as one of the most successful federal assistance programs, reducing child anemia, lowering infant mortality rates and allowing participants to enjoy improved nutrition and health.
Instead, the House is pursuing the construction of new deep ocean anti-submarine vessels. Perhaps it is time to actually realize the idea of nation building here at home by being responsible with our defense budget.