Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has taken the progressive world by storm with his populist message calling wealth and income inequality “the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time, and it is the great political issue of our time.” Part of Sanders’s program to reduce wealth inequality is obliging megarich oligarchs and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, but as Sanders said last night at a campaign event in Iowa, a reflective look at government waste is needed to make truly meaningful gains:
“when we talk about making government more cost effective, it doesn’t simply mean cutting Medicaid and food stamps…What it does mean is taking a hard look at an agency, which receives $600 billion per year where there is an immense amount of waste and fraud…”
Politicians have railed for decades about the bloated budget and absolute waste in the Department of Defense (DoD) – infamous for $500 hammers and $600 toilets seats. While the U.S. Military is unquestionably great at fighting wars, it seems to be wildly incompetent at managing money. As OccupyDemocrats reported earlier this year, “partly because of its convoluted bookkeeping systems, $8.5 trillion—yes, trillion—taxpayer dollars doled out by Congress since 1996 has never been accounted for” – enough money to cut our national debt in half.
Sanders notes that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (for whom Sanders has little appreciation) said that “there are trillions of dollars in the Dept. of Defense that we can’t account for.” The speech in which Rumsfeld delivered this outrageous news was given the day before 9/11 and received scant attention. Part of the excuse for the MIA funds has been “an overreliance on private contractors with a lack of oversight.” As Sanders said: “Well, they really don’t know. It’s so complicated… .” In fact, Congress tried to exert pressure on the Department in 2009 by passing a law “requiring the DoD to be audit-ready by 2017. After spending—no wasting—billions on failed accounting software, the department is likely to miss that deadline…”
The “fiscally restrained” – in name only – Republicans in Congress impose projects on the military that the military itself spurns. It is clear that at this point they cry “overspending” at any program they disagree with – but had no problem putting Bush’s wars on the national credit card. Take, for instance, the omnibus spending bill that went to Congress a couple of weeks ago included $640 million for a Coast Guard ship the Coast Guard doesn’t even want.
Sanders recognizes something is gravely out of whack and needs to be fixed when military families must rely on food stamps to survive. It cannot go unmentioned that at the very same time, Republicans have proposed budgets that would kick millions out of the program in the name of waste: The bottom line, as Sanders said:
“And while we have massive cost overruns with defense contractors, we’ve got deployment after deployment for our soldiers, and we’ve got military families on food stamps. So maybe we want to change that.”
Sanders’s belief that wealth and income inequality are the great moral and social issues of our time is on spot-on. He is also right that unequitable laws applied to wealthy oligarchs and corporations (which move tens of billions of dollars off-shore each year to avoid taxes) need to be changed so they can’t escape paying their fair share. And he is also right that government needs to be accountable to its citizens and generous to the men and women in uniform who risk life and limb in defense of our nation, and require a governmental agency that receives $6oo billion a year with an enormous amount of waste and fraud – needs to be reined in and held accountable.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.