You can actually get a few things done with $87 billion, the amount that
President Bush has asked Congress to appropriate for expenditures
related to the military occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN bodies estimate the
cost of providing treatment and prevention services in developing
countries for tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria at $12 billion a year.
The WHO Commission on Macroeconomics and Health estimated that donor
investment of $27 billion a year, including expenditures on TB, AIDS and
malaria, as well as to eliminate death and suffering from other
infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies, could save 8 million
lives a year. That's eight million lives. A year.
The UN Development Program estimated in 1998 that the annual additional
cost of achieving basic education for all was $6 billion.
Prefer to spend some or all of the money at home? Even in the United
States, where the dollar doesn't go as far, $87 billion can perform some
pretty impressive feats.
For example, according to Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, it
would only cost $6 billion a year to provide health insurance to all
uninsured children in the United States. You can provide Head Start and
Early Head Start to all eligible children for $8 billion annually. You
can reduce class size to 15 students per teacher in all first-, second-
and third-grade classrooms for $11 billion a year.
For $87 billion, you could eliminate the backlog of maintenance needs at
national parks nearly 15 times over. You could cover more than half the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-estimated 20-year investment needs
to ensure safe drinking water throughout the United States. You could
more than double the annual capital expenditures needed to improve
public transportation in the United States, according to estimates of
the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
You could provide almost half of the overall funding EPA says is needed
to provide clean watersheds in the United States, including through
wastewater treatment, sewer upgrades and nonpoint source pollution control.
It just so happens, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities
points out, that $87 billion is almost exactly what all departments in
the federal government combined spend annually on education, training,
employment and social services. So you could fund that for a year.
If you looked at the $87 billion as found money, and wanted to do
something unorthodox, you could eliminate California's state budget
deficit two times over.
And, you would still have enough left over to enable the Detroit Tigers
(baseball's worst team) next year to field a team full of Alex
Rodriguez's. (Rodriguez, at $25 million a year, is baseball's
highest-paid player. A full roster -- 25 players -- of Rodriguez's would
cost $625 million.)
We accept that having imposed devastating economic sanctions on Iraq for
a decade and twice waged war on the country, the United States has a
major obligation to support reconstruction in Iraq. But three-quarters
of the president's request is for military expenses, not reconstruction,
the request follows a previous $79 billion appropriation, additional
requests are certain to follow, and much of the money being spent on
reconstruction is being funneled as poorly scrutinized corporate welfare
to Bush and Vice President Cheney's buddies at companies like
Halliburton and Bechtel.
If one steps back for a moment, it is evident that there is a long list
of expenditures that would do more to improve the world, and more to
improve U.S. security if reasonably defined, than what the president
proposes to do in Iraq.
A strange circumstance has evolved in the United States. Military
expenditures can be justified at almost any level. ("Whatever it takes
to defend freedom.") Politicians don't say, "Whatever it takes to make
sure every child in this country has a decent education." Or, "Whatever
it takes to deal with the worst health pandemic in the history of the
world (HIV/AIDS)." When it comes to the military, there is neither a
sense of proportion, nor of trade offs.
This state of affairs is a tribute to the military contractors and
political leaders who have ridden to power by instilling fear in the
populace. It can be traced in no small part to campaign contributions
and lobbyist influence, but the problem runs much deeper than that. Fear
has penetrated deep into the culture.
But the administration's overreach in Iraq now offers an opportunity to
create a new sense of priorities. It is now even more apparent than it
was before the war that Iraq posed no security threat to the United
States. And the sums of money requested by the administration -- and
more will be coming -- are so extraordinary that they practically demand
consideration of alternative expenditures.
After all, you really can do quite a bit with $87 billion.
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman