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Editorial: Military spending and food stamps

Bullets or butter. Battalions or books. The amount of money that gets pumped into the U.S. defense budget has long been a contentious issue.

The adverse reaction in some quarters to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s call for reducing the Army is to be expected.

Those critical of such a move say that it’s a short-sighted proposal that leaves the nation in a vulnerable position.

Supporters say that it is a step toward moving the country away from the perpetual state of war — or near-war — that the U.S. has found itself in for more than seven decades. As Hagel himself said, “As we end our combat mission in Afghanistan, this will be the first budget to fully reflect the transition DoD is making after 13 years of war.”

And then, on the other hand, there’s former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose message trumpets the merits of fleets over food stamps.

Appearing on the FOX network, Cheney said, “You know, I’ve obviously not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama, but this really is over the top ... He’d much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.”

The former vice president should do a little more homework. Doing so, he would realize that veterans and their families aren’t immune to requiring the assistance of food stamps, now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to analysis from the Center on Budget Policy and Policy Priorities that was published last October, “Nationwide, in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families in 2011 ...” No doubt any number of those veterans are feeling the pinch created by SNAP budgetary cuts that took place earlier this year.

The Defense Department is aware of that more military families are using SNAP benefits. Since 2007, when the Great Recession got under way, the use of food stamps at military grocers has been rising steadily, to $103.6 million during fiscal year 2013.

As for military spending, Congress has agreed to a figure of just under $500 billion. And if the Army cuts go through, the active force would be reduced from 522,000 to the neighborhood of 450,000. This would be the first time since 2005 that the active-duty Army has dipped below 500,000.

Here’s what Hagel had to say about the plan: “Our analysis showed that this force would be capable of decisively defeating aggression in one major combat theater — as it must be — while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater against an adversary.”

And it’s a move endorsed by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

If Cheney is so concerned about our troops, he should be putting his support to seeing that our veterans aren’t found wanting when it comes to programs and services when they leave the military. And he should be leading the charge for finding unemployed veterans good-paying jobs or increasing military pay so that food stamps aren’t necessary.

The bottom line here is that we won’t be fighting on two fronts, and shouldn’t need the troops required to do so.

But any cuts should be done carefully, with an eye toward maintaining our readiness to meet any threat.

The world is still a dangerous place.

We spend more on our military than the next 14 countries in the world COMBINED. And Cheney should chew out the Republicans before the President -- the Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted against a bill extending veterans' benefits.

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