The discussion began, as it often does, with the budget.
Caroline Dorminey and Corey Greer joined Ploughshares Fund to talk about their efforts to shift the conversation on national security. Dorminey and Greer are with Women’s Action for a New Direction (WAND), an advocacy organization aimed at promoting diplomacy and demilitarizing US foreign policy, partly through a network of lawmakers called the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL).
One way to engineer results, they explained, is to tackle the massively inflated defense funding that undergirds current policy.
It is not an easy undertaking. “Rather than the Budget Control Act actually controlling the budget,” said Dorminey, “we’ve had a robust expansion of the budget year to year.”
The issue, she explained, is that neither Democrats or Republicans have full control of the government, making compromise necessary. But because Democrats want to increase non-defense spending, and Republicans refuse to cut the military budget, both sides eventually agree to more of both.
“Those two parties must work together. And the only way that they found to do that is just to increase everything across the board.”
But, Greer cautions, not all spending is equal in the eyes of the voters.
“This issue is common sense for a lot of our activists and for the members of our network,” explained Greer, pointing out that the military now absorbs over sixty percent of discretionary funding. “People, in their hearts, know that is not the best use of our taxpayer dollars.”
To illustrate this, Dorminey talked about a recent trip the WiLL network took to West Virginia. There, they showed local voters just how much of their taxes went to the military and how much went to food stamps instead. “It’s thousands of dollars to defense every year,” Dorminey explained, “whereas SNAP benefits are less than a hundred bucks out of a West Virginia taxpayer’s pocket.”
What’s needed, Dorminey said, is a complete reconsideration of how we allocate defense funds. Under the current system, the budgets for high-end weapons systems are often extended decades into the future, leading to considerable - and prohibitively expensive - funding overlap.
“And here’s my problem with that: it’s completely unsustainable,” said Dorminey. “I would rather make sure that we’re buying the right amount of the right weapon system now, than have to cut it ten years down the line because we don’t have enough money.”
When asked how they felt about the progress they were making - especially on the issue of bringing new, diverse voices to the defense policy table - both Dorminey and Greer were optimistic, even if they acknowledged a lot of fight remained.
“The times are changing,” said Greer. “People are interested in hearing diverse opinions because they know that it’s the smart thing to do. It’s not just right. We don’t just need women involved to be politically correct.”
“We do this because women have unique perspectives. Their lived experience adds to policy making.”
To learn more about WAND and the WiLL network, visit their site here: https://www.wand.org/