Sandy Pappas: Honoring the legacy of American workers

Senate President Sandy Pappas

Senate President Sandy Pappas

Labor Day marks more than just the end of summer. It’s a celebration of American workers and the contributions they make to the strength, prosperity and economic well-being of our country. This Labor Day, the continued need for sustainable, living wage jobs is first and foremost on my mind.

As a state legislator, the decisions I make in the Legislature help to create jobs in my community and for my constituents. The same is true for Congress, but on an even bigger scale. Now that summer is over, it’s time for Congress to get back to work and make sure our constituents have the opportunity to be a part of the great legacy of American workers.

The federal budget is a critical blueprint for meeting our nation’s goals. In Minnesota and in Congress, the budgets we craft allow us to have schools, policemen, roads and bridges, health care and other essential services. Our state relies on federal investments to be safe, healthy, thriving and economically sound.

Yet Congress continues to allocate inordinate sums – more than half of the federal discretionary budget – to the Pentagon and its programs, to the detriment of our national and economic security. Since 2001, Pentagon spending has almost doubled. The growth of the Pentagon budget comes at the expense of necessary, vital programs that help our most vulnerable citizens – children, the elderly, veterans, the unemployed, women and their families.

In addition, the Defense Department continues to rely inappropriately on a special war spending account, using this for programs that should be part of the regular budget. In effect, this provides an $60 billion slush fund that is not subject to budget caps that Congress put in place to control spending. Any other federal agency, including those that serve veterans and military families, would love to have access to that kind of extra money, but none except the Pentagon do. We must prioritize the needs of the men and women in the military. Programs in Minnesota and across the nation are being eaten alive by the country’s militarized budget.

When it comes to creating jobs, Pentagon spending ranks last compared to investing the same dollars in health care, clean energy or education, according to recent studies by economists at the University of Massachusetts. Both sides of the aisle agree that job creation is a top priority. One of the best ways to create jobs is to examine the Pentagon budget, eliminate unnecessary and unwanted pork projects and move those dollars toward domestic needs and training workers.

Reshaping the Pentagon’s budget is necessary to address 21st century security needs in a strategic, fiscally responsible and accountable way. For example, spending the planned $350 billion over the next decade on U.S. nuclear weapons is unwise and imperils our security. These weapons are ill-suited to address today’s threats like cyber-attacks or nuclear terrorism. In fact, a greater number of nuclear weapons means a higher likelihood for accidents, terrorism and diplomatic crises.

The federal budget is a reflection of our nation’s priorities. Congress must choose between investing in a healthy and economically secure America, creating sustainable jobs and protecting our most vulnerable citizens – or siding with special interests and continuing to spend billions on wasteful programs that military leaders do not even want. This fall, Congress should do its job and create more jobs, strengthen the economy, and raise the minimum wage, invest in early childhood education and repair our aging infrastructure.

As a legislator, I know how challenging it can be to come to agreement about how best to address our state’s needs and prepare for the future, but job creation is a goal that we all share. Reducing the Pentagon’s share of the federal budget is a significant step towards achieving that goal. This Labor Day, let’s honor the legacy of American workers and safeguard our nation’s future with strategic investing, not more wasteful Pentagon spending.

Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) is President of the Minnesota Senate and Vice President of the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL), a program of Women’s Action for New Directions.

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