By Marc Larocque
According to U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Newton, military spending on efforts that are not crucial to America's security should be reduced, while that money should be brought back home to reduce the deficit and help people here.
Frank delivered that message to an audience at a town hall style meeting on Sunday that was held at the First Parish Church in Taunton.
"I am convinced that we cannot reduce the deficit over that 10-year period in a responsible way, the way that leaves us able to still protect the quality of life here in America and to promote good economic activity in America, unless we substantially reduce America's worldwide military footprint," Frank said.
Frank displayed several charts illustrating U.S. military spending levels, including a chart that shows national discretionary spending in fiscal year 2010 consisted of 56.5 percent military spending. One chart showed that $714 billion was spent on the military that year, while $452 billion was spent on Medicare, and another chart shows that the vast majority of military spending is not for war but for bases in countries such as Japan and Germany.
Frank also informed the crowd that while the U.S. spends over $700 billion on military, China spends around $100 billion, and for European countries like France and Russia it is around $50 billion.
"The fact is that we are spending in our defense budget, not even to defend America and a few of our allies who need our help, but in pursuit of the view that it is America's responsibility to maintain peace and order everywhere in the world," Frank said. "That's something we did undertake in a very generous way after World War II."
Frank prefaced his remarks by explaining much has changed in the world since World War II -- primarily, the Soviet Union crumbled -- and the United States no longer needs to protect countries like Germany against a now nonexistent threat.
Frank said that President Bill Clinton was able to balance the budget for a number of reasons, including some domestic spending cuts, but mainly because he made cuts to the military.
Frank called for a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, stating that leaving the country would save $120 billion a year.
Frank also said the U.S. can do no more for Iraq, and added that there is a limit to what Americans can do to help opposing Iraqi sects who don't get along.
Frank said fighting terrorism is vastly different then contending with the Soviet Union. Frank said he continues to support the drone attacks and anti-terrorism operations that killed Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki (however, he qualified this, saying there should have been a secret court trial before Awlaki was killed).
Frank also said some nations need American help, including South Korea -- which is "menaced by a nut" in Kim Jong Il from North Korea -- along with Taiwan and Israel. However, Frank said "we are way above that" in terms of U.S. military presence in other countries across the globe.
Frank said many conservative advocates for military spending would oppose stimulus spending on the basis that it would not help the economy, but all of a sudden they become Keynesians when it comes to military spending.
However, Frank said he does not want to cut spending on military equipment, like the field equipment created by General Dynamics in Taunton.
"I also feel if I'm going to send somebody to war I'm going to equip him or her as well as possible," Frank said. "War is sometimes necessary, but always terrible. And we should take that into account. ... I don't want these people exposed. If we have to send them in, if it's going to be that necessary, let's send them in with what we could, to get them in, get the job done and get them out."
Frank said that he was against all cuts to veterans spending, when asked about what should be done about the problem of members of the service returning to the United States and becoming homeless.
Frank also took the time to criticize Republican presidential contenders, saying he's still trying to figure out how to work along with Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann and trashing candidate Herman Cain's proposed 9-9-9 tax code, calling it a "joke of a plan."
Frank then took several questions from his constituents.
Taunton's Kathy Metzger, a member of the Massachusetts Nursing Association, asked about the possibility of instituting a financial transaction tax to help get money from Wall Street to where it's needed in the community, such as in the healthcare. Frank said that it'd be hard to get the votes on a tax like that, and added that he is pushing for a tax on large financial institutions.
Ethan Chaff, who works in Stoughton but lives in Foxboro, told Frank that Wall Street seems so broken and "unbridled capitalism" has failed the country. He asked Frank about the philosophy of privatized gain of large financial companies coupled with the "socialized losses" of large financial companies.
"The goal of a financial institution should be to gather up the money for people who have savings, bundle it up and make it available to people who are productive," Frank said. "The problem is much of what they did went far beyond that. What we've tried to do is restrain that."
Jack Worrall, of Norton, said he was alarmed by how American consumers by products from China, and said that "we need to keep that money here" so it can flow down to American workers. Worrall said manufacturers should be required to put a graphic of the country's flag where the product originated on its packaging.
Frank said that trade done properly is a good thing and said that he is supporting a Senate passed bill that would create a tariff to offset the effect of China keeping the value of its currency artificially low, in turn making Chinese products cheaper overseas and actually more expensive in China. However, Frank said that Republican leaders don't like the China tariff idea.
"The single greatest thing we can do is (to have) China's currency going up," Frank said.