Report from DC: the pulse on peace issues
Last week, Katie and I spent the week in Washington, DC, bringing Peace Action West’s priorities to Capitol Hill and connecting with other organizations from around the country that are doing wonderful work to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Here’s a quick update on the top issues we talked about in our meetings with more than 25 different congressional offices:
Chipping away at the bloated nuclear weapons budget
We joined in on the lobby days of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a coalition of grassroots groups around the country working on nuclear weapons, power and waste. It was inspiring to spend a few days with their knowledgeable, committed and passionate activists, ranging in age from teenagers to octogenarians. In addition to meetings with congressional staff, ANA had an awards ceremony at which they presented awards to activists as well as Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA). I even got the opportunity to sing original lyrics to jazz songs about nuclear weapons written by a great antinuclear activist at the Monday night pizza party.
The message in our meetings was that Congress needs to slash the increased budget for nuclear weapons activities in the FY2013 budget, targeting wasteful programs and facilities that would increase our capacity to build nuclear weapons—a huge waste, especially when we are reducing our reliance on nuclear weapons. We also urged representatives to cosponsor Rep. Markey’s SANE Act, which would cut nuclear weapons spending by $100 billion over the next decade. Given the intense budget pressures, there is room for progress in pushing Congress to make these cuts, and encouraging statements from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the committee that sets the nuclear weapons budget, are a good sign that we can see results if we keep pushing in the next couple of months.
Continuing the drumbeat to end the war in Afghanistan
The momentum against the war in Afghanistan is even stronger now after several weeks of tragic incidents that call the wisdom of keeping a military presence there into question. Members of Congress certainly understand that the war isn’t getting any more popular with the American public, and many of them are eager to find opportunities to continue pushing for an end to the war.
Our big question was what comes next after the success of the Senate and House letters supporting a quicker military withdrawal. We encouraged people to support Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill limiting funding to a safe and responsible military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The next big step will be using the May NATO summit as an opportunity to push the administration for an accelerated withdrawal (there are some reports that they are looking at a few different options for withdrawal).
Silencing the war drums on Iran
Congress has a history of not being particularly helpful when it comes to reasoned debate and policymaking on Iran. The latest manifestation of this is a pair of resolutions that supports lowering the threshold for military action against Iran to nuclear weapons capability. This is a disturbingly vague term that means different things to different people (the sponsors of the resolution have not offered a clear definition), and undermining the administration’s position and pushing for a more militaristic approach to the Iran problem is highly counterproductive. We strongly urged representatives and senators not to cosponsor the bill, but supporters of the bill have mobilized heavily in favor of it, so we will need to push back hard in the coming weeks.
Rep. Barbara Lee is offering a bill that would bring more sanity to the debate, appointing a special envoy for talks and lifting a counterproductive “no contact” policy, while also explicitly affirming that money cannot be spent on military action without prior authorization from Congress. We also urged representatives to cosponsor this bill and give the president political space to pursue a peaceful solution with Iran.
Reining in massive military spending
Congress still hasn’t settled the question of what will happen with the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that are supposed to go into effect next year because of the super committee’s failure to make a deficit deal. There are many hawks who are desperately trying to find a way to prevent additional cuts to the military budget, despite the fact that the Pentagon could sustain the sequestration cuts without harm to our national security. There’s not much appetite for dealing with this issue in an election year, and it likely won’t come up until a lame duck session at the end of the year. We urged members of Congress to oppose any deal that makes domestic spending bear the brunt of cuts and lets the Pentagon off the hook.