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Thankful on Thanksgiving?

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As a twenty-something just starting my career, I share the concerns of my generation, who graduated from college and grad school with record debt and entered one of the worst economies in recent years. This Thanksgiving, many of us feel that there is not much to be thankful for. Even though the “Great Recession” is over, we are still struggling to find jobs with decent wages, pay down our debt, and save for our future. We may be one of the first generations in decades to do not do as well financially as our parents. We think about the future and dream of a better economy every day. Does Congress?

Thanksgiving is a holiday dedicated to celebrating the harvest and a time to be thankful that the labors in spring yielded bounty in fall. But this fall Congress’ labor is far from over, and we’ve yet to see any bounty. In this post-election session, there are a number of critical decisions to be made – and our chances for economic prosperity may hang in the balance.

Looming budget cuts known as “sequestration” could have dire economic consequences for our state and our nation. The clock is ticking. If Congress fails to act before January 2, these across-the-board cuts will take effect. Now is the time to find a better solution to reducing the deficit – a balanced solution that protects the programs on which everyday Americans rely and invests in a better economic future. Though Pentagon spending is also scheduled for reductions, there are members of Congress trying to change that. They would rather exempt the Pentagon from any cuts, which would force even deeper reductions to many programs that the most vulnerable among us desperately need.

Our nation’s security is invaluable - an essential priority. I am grateful for all the sacrifices made to keep us safe. However, Pentagon spending consumes than half of all discretionary spending that Congress votes on each year, and has been rising steeply since 2001. Smart reductions to the Pentagon budget won’t harm our troops, jeopardize national security, or elevate unemployment, as experts have repeatedly testified. Leading economists agree that investing our tax dollars in education, healthcare, mass transit, and clean energy creates more jobs than Pentagon spending.

Additionally, the Pentagon budget is not designed to effectively address 21st century security needs. We need to eliminate wasteful programs the Pentagon says it does not want or need. We must reshape the Pentagon budget while ensuring that we honor our obligations to our troops – the men and women who put their lives on the line and deserve our support in return. For the cost of just one new nuclear submarine, we could provide body armor and bomb-resistant Humvees to all our troops overseas, house and treat every homeless U.S. veteran, and still have $2.2 billion remaining to pay down our debt. Our troops and security should come before bloated nuclear weapons programs left over from the Cold War.

Reshaping Pentagon spending to address today’s threats is more than a fiscal necessity; it is an opportunity to improve the sustainable strength and strategic effectiveness of our nation’s defense in the years to come. I count on my elected officials to do their part to shape a vibrant economy by prioritizing vital investments in needed programs and making fiscally responsible decisions. Proposals to steer around sequestration by shielding Pentagon spending in favor of deep cuts to non-defense discretionary programs will endanger the economy and the well-being of citizens for generations to come. Every dollar that we waste on the Pentagon is a dollar that won’t go toward creating a job that millions of Americans desperately need.

The Pentagon cannot be exempt from cuts as Congress weighs how best to reduce the deficit and grow our economy. Our national and economic security is compromised by failing to invest in job creation and in our nation’s greatest asset – its people. I urge Senator Saxby Chambliss, Representative Phil Gingrey, and Senator Johnny Isakson to embrace a deficit reduction plan that does not exempt the Pentagon from sensible budget cuts. I urge them to consider their children, their grandchildren, and the millions of twenty-somethings like myself who will feel the effects of their decisions for the rest of our working lives. If this Congress refuses to make cuts to the biggest portion of our discretionary budget – the Pentagon – we truly won’t have much to be thankful for.

-Adzi Vokhiwa, WiLL President's Associate

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