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This Washington has its own military-industrial complex problem

Guest Opinion: It's time for our state's federally elected officials to stop pandering to military expansion interests and get serious about the real challenges we're facing.

There are many things our state should push for through its congressional delegation. 

For example, with the state budget strapped, we are tied for the nation’s worst federal Medicaid matching rate. Had we simply Oregon’s matching rate we would bring in over $100 million additionally just for in-home care.

Yet, rather than lobby Congress about this, our state, with its congressional delegation cheerleading, commissioned a lavish report from a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm urging military expansion.

This is perversely inconsistent with talk of right-sizing the federal budget. And with so much on the chopping block, both at the federal and state levels, it is perhaps a morally-telling priority to focus on.

We should also be careful what we ask for. 

In 2005, when the last transportation tax package was adopted, I never imagined, as an Olympia legislator then, the I-5 paralysis future Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) expansion would bring. Base population has more than doubled since 2002. It is almost impossible to escape Thurston County on just three I-5 lanes to pass into Pierce. Fixing this will cost no less than $760 million, according to the same report on military expansion. And the state’s next capital budget is on the hook for two new schools to serve the base.

It is irresponsible to unconditionally urge growth without the means to pay for it. Why do we assess impact fees upon everyday citizens buying new homes and yet not ask the federal government to pay for growth?  

Furthermore, rather than profit off expanded militarism, with lessons from our Afghanistan and Iraq misadventures unlearned, it would be more equitable for Congress to focus on paying enlisted personnel better and better providing for health care of returning warriors.  Infrastructure does not make lives whole. 

Let's think out of the box. Rather than maintain enlistment at inflated levels, make Madigan Army Medical Center, for example, a leader in treating the traumatic brain injuries that are the recurring signature of improvised explosive devices — the butcher’s bill of congressional irresponsibility in authorizing post-9/11 deployments.

Given JBLM’s strategic location, and its existing infrastructure as the largest joint base west of the Rockies, I have no worries it will be abandoned. That’s independent of the heresy of a 2012 finding from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service of “little strong evidence that the closing of a base is the definitive cause of a general economic calamity in local economies.” 

Nor can we sacrifice freedoms for bases. State officials and our congressional delegation uncritically praised their lobbyist’s report. Yet, with circulation-deprived newspapers struggling to provide information, the report would make it harder to find it. In addition to its recommendations, it urges amending the state’s citizen-passed Public Records Act to hide “military installation analysis information as it relates to base-specific recommendations.” 

In other words, deny taxpayers the cost-benefit analysis their elected officials engage in. If our troops are not enlisted to fight for the First Amendment, it’s hard to imagine what other rights are expendable based on elected leaders’ whims.

It is unfashionable today to discuss morality in budgeting. Reasonable minds can disagree over the need for fiscal austerity, although I would err on the side of economic recovery through government investment. Yet what is incontrovertible is the human toll of federal cuts to social services for our most vulnerable. 

Fiscal cliff “sequestration” was based upon the artifice that Republicans would fight against military cuts and Democrats against cuts to domestic programs. Instead, the only bipartisan focus of debate over cuts has been those to the military – disagreement between parties has centered on taxes. 

This is not an intrinsically moral debate. With sequestration delayed, the next congressional battle will be over cuts. If there are to be cuts, let us here in Washington advocate beating swords into plowshares. 

Olympia attorney Brendan Williams served in the Washington House of Representatives from 2005-11. In 2008 he announced he would not seek a fourth term due to the lack of progressive leadership.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 7:19 a.m. Inappropriate

"Olympia attorney Brendan Williams served in the Washington House of Representatives from 2005-11. In 2008 he announced he would not seek a fourth term due to the lack of progressive leadership."

So rather than stay in a postion of influence, where he could actually be the change that he claims to want to see, he quit. He didn't run for the newly formed 10th Congressional District, he simply quit. So when he spews statement like this, we should all consider the source.

"Let's think out of the box. Rather than maintain enlistment at inflated levels, make Madigan Army Medical Center, for example, a leader in treating the traumatic brain injuries that are the recurring signature of improvised explosive devices — the butcher’s bill of congressional irresponsibility in authorizing post-9/11 deployments."

So are you saying it was irresponsible to address the 9/11 attacks Mr. Williams? Was President Obama a War Criminal for reaching into a sovereign nation and killing OBL?

Cameron

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 9:56 a.m. Inappropriate

What Brendan William writes makes very good sense to me. To "Cameron" I would say, "A UN led police action would have sufficed to hunt down the then comparatively small band of ex-CIA-created Mujahadim who had become vengeful not just against the Soviet Union but to their creators. Instead you have a decade long occupation and war and the hatred of most Afghanis, and a resurgent Taliban, and "al Queda" - what and whoever that really is - in action from the Mahgreb all the way to Pakistan and beyond. In other words, miserable wars ahead for the foreseable future, like winter weather in Seattle.!

mikerol

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

I wonder if Mr. Williams will continue to have his whines published as if his opinion mattered? When the going gets tough, the progressives start quiting.

Cameron

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

I think Mr. Williams missed the point of the study. Congress will likely convene a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission this decade. Federal budgets, not limited to defense, will be shrinking. Washington is in a strategically significant location for to mitigate future threats to our nation's security (i.e. North Korea, China, the Arctic).

As Congress and DOD realigns, not expands, its forces we should make sure we are prepared to receive those assets and contracts because the economic impacts to local communities is significant. Even the smallest base employs thousands and generate several hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impacts annually.

Would he rather the state sit back and watch those new jobs go to San Diego or Hawaii? Even worse, would he rather Congress shutdown one of our bases and ship existing jobs elsewhere? What is wrong with being proactive to protect our state's economic future?

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

It's always nice to hear from Cameron. His public service in posting conservative bromides under a pseudonym is appreciated.

As to the more thoughtful comment from Patrick: Beyond the incongruity of politicizing a process (BRAC) that was created to be above politics, given the inability of Congress to address global military readiness without provincialism, I simply do not believe JBLM (nor our naval assets) will go away for exactly the reason you articulate: "Washington is in a strategically significant location for to mitigate future threats to our nation's security (i.e. North Korea, China, the Arctic)." In fact, I might accentuate the Arctic on that list. We're already falling behind as other nations giddily seek to exploit resources there.

We are spending more on the military today, in adjusted dollars, than we did during the Vietnam War. Presumably we're due for a peace dividend lest we be the most heavily-armed, utterly-bankrupt nation in history. Our state could benefit from money presently being spent on defense being reinvested in domestic infrastructure. Just look at the unmet infrastructure needs JBLM has created for our no-new-taxes state! There is something grotesque about spending Chinese loans on ever-shinier military hardware. Washington citizens are part of a country that exists for reasons other than pork barrel spending. And I would like to see our policymakers expend just a wee bit of energy rectifying ways in which we are disadvantaged relative to other states.

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

I think there are two distinct, albeit related, conversations occuring here.

The state taking stock of one of its major economic drivers to ensure it is competitive in a changing strategic and budgetary environment demonstrates a more proactive and responsible approach than the typical reactionary stance we take in every other major employment sector in our state. I hope that we could agree that this is a step forward to a more responsive and responsible role for state government in economic development.

As for the federal budgets, the BRAC process, and everything else you mentioned at the federal level, I couldn't agree more. But just because congress and the federal government can't get their act together, we should not be caught flat-footed.

In short, proactive state government GOOD, broken federal government BAD.

Posted Tue, Jan 8, 5:30 p.m. Inappropriate

In a fitting postscript to my column, our outgoing governor's last visit to D.C. in her official capacity is to protest Air National Guard cuts.

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