Rainbow Rant: What would you do with $31 billion?

The 4 percent increase proposed by the Biden administration would bring the 2023 military budget to a whopping $813 billion

Joy Ellison
The Biden administration has proposed a $31 billion dollar increase in the 2023 military budget.

What would you do with $31 billion in taxpayer money?

I know it’s hard to imagine that kind of cash. It’s especially hard to wrap your mind around that amount of money when 59 percent of Americans are living only one paycheck away from homelessness. So here are a few ideas:

In 2020, the average American’s annual medical costs totaled $12,530. With $31 billion, you could pay the medical bills of approximately 2,474,000 Americans. 

With $31 billion, we could pay the salaries of about 487,076 new public school teachers.

With $31 billion, we could expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by a little more than 50 percent. That would provide 54 million hungry Americans with monthly help.

Actually, if you like helping hungry people, the United Nations estimated that it would take only $30 billion to solve the global food crisis and end starvation for millions.

According to Forbes estimates, with $31 billion you could pay the start-up costs for 400,000 taco trucks. Since the United States is estimated to have 600,000 corners, with that kind of queso we could ensure carne asada and pico de gallo are never out of reach of anyone in this great country. 

It’s an amount of money that could easily improve the lives of millions of people, but that’s not Congress’ plan. Instead, $31 billion is the amount that the Biden administration has asked for in increases to the military budget. 

The Biden administration’s proposed 2023 budget calls for $813 billion in military spending. The $31 billion increase I’ve been describing represents a 4 percent increase from the 2022 budget. The 2022 military budget included a 5 percent increase from the 2021 military budget, which was 4.4 percent bigger than the 2019 budget…

I could keep going. 

The U.S. military budget has been growing steadily for decades, even during peacetime. In fact, conservative politicians, including President George Bush Sr., once campaigned on the promise of a military budget decrease following the end of the Cold War. They said that decreasing the military budget would boost the U.S. economy. But the so-called “peace dividend” never materialized. 

All this growth in the military budget has taken place while real wages have been declining for decades. Real hourly wages fell by 1.7 percent over the last year. Most workers can’t dream of ever receiving the kind of raises the Pentagon budget gets every year. 

If passed by Congress, the 2023 budget will spend 18 times more on the Pentagon than on mitigating the climate crisis. That raises the question, in another decade, what will be left for our military to protect? 

There is an inescapable human cost to our lopsided federal budget. President Dwight D. Eisenhower described it in one of his most famous speeches: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

But surely this military spending is necessary? 

Actually, that’s not so clear. In 2022, Congress appropriated more for the military than Biden or the Pentagon asked. Are those lawmakers really concerned about military readiness, or do they just want pork for their home districts?

Increasing military spending is unlikely to help end Russia’s war on Ukraine. Experts broadly agree that Russian President Vladimir Putin has found himself in a quagmire. As uncomfortable as it might be to acknowledge, that’s a position the United States knows well, because we found ourselves in similar situations in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. To reestablish peace and security, we’ll need to play a very different role than we have in the past — one of careful diplomacy, not domination. 

Gideon Rose of the Council on Foreign Relations argued that the United States needs to focus on creating viable exit-strategies for Russia. “Defeat or stalemate on the battlefield is a necessary condition for Russian withdrawal, but as Americans have learned, it can take a long time for a great power to go through the stages of grief and accept such an outcome,” he wrote. “And humiliation makes exit harder to stomach, not easier.” 

Increasing our defenses won’t help with this delicate task; instead, it could simply drive Putin closer to nuclear war. 

Our military spending totals more than the military budgets of the next 11 countries combined. Meanwhile, we lag behind in health outcomes, education and quality of life. Whatever you feel about the effectiveness of our military strategy, we can’t ignore that Americans at home are paying a heavy price for it. 

A whopping 37 percent of the U.S. federal budget is spent on the military and the aftermath of past wars. When you file your taxes next week, ask yourself what you would do with just a little bit of that money.