In America, Funding War Is a Smart Investment—but Providing Healthcare Isn’t

In America, Funding War Is a Smart Investment—but Providing Healthcare Isn’t

In America, Funding War Is a Smart Investment—but Providing Healthcare Isn’t

Why isn’t Biden, who chafes at the suggestion that our superpowers might be insufficient to sustain two wars, more indignant that caring for people is our kryptonite?

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Eight days after Israel declared war on Hamas and began its bombardment of Gaza, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was asked if the United States could afford to support wars in both Israel and Ukraine. Without missing a beat, she answered the question in the affirmative.

“America can certainly afford to stand with Israel and to support Israel’s military needs and we also can and must support Ukraine in its struggle against Russia,” Yellen told Britain’s Sky News. “We do need to come up with funds, both for Israel and for Ukraine. This is a priority.”

One day earlier, a similar query had been posed to President Biden, who, seemingly incredulous that the question was even being raised, gave an even more confidently grandiose response.

“We’re the United States of America for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in history. Not in the world, in the history of the world,” the president told 60 Minutes. “We can take care of both of these and still maintain our overall international defense. And if we don’t, who does?”

Both Biden and Yellen’s responses are noteworthy not because they are unexpected but for their tiresome predictability. Money is never an object when it comes to the price tag for bloody war, unlike the cost of Americans’ health and well-being, which always strikes our government officials with near-debilitating sticker shock. The assumption that the people they ostensibly represent will believe these wild vacillations— unshakable financial confidence one minute, nail-biting economic insecurity the next—assumes a sort of national forgetfulness. So allow me to help us all remember. A good starting point is then-candidate Biden’s justifying his hesitancy in supporting a universal healthcare bill in 2020:

“My opposition [to Medicare for All] relates to whether or not, a, it’s doable, and two, what the cost is and what the consequences for the rest of the budget are,” Biden told MSNBC at the time. “How are you going to find $35 trillion over the next 10 years without having profound impacts on everything from taxes for working- and middle-class people, as well as the rest of the budget?”

Not to get hung up on technicalities, but weren’t we also, to use the president’s own words, the “most powerful nation in history” in 2020? How is it that, even among the world’s richest countries, we are uniquely powerful in our ability to underwrite multiple wars but also uniquely powerless in our inability to give every citizen access to decent healthcare? If the problem with single-payer healthcare is that it might overtax the working and middle classes, why is the extraction of war funds from working- and middle-class folks no bigs? Don’t forget that 67 percent of all Americans’ bankruptcies are due to medical debt. And as of 2023, studies find that 53 percent don’t maintain an emergency savings fund, nearly 40 percent do not have $400 cash on hand for unforeseen costs, and more than 25 million are uninsured. It seems Biden, who chafes at the mere suggestion that our superpowers might be insufficient to sustain two wars, would be more indignant that caring for people is our kryptonite.

Since 9/11, the United States has spent more than $8 trillion, with a T, on “wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere,” according to Brown University’s Watson Institute, though the organization notes that the sum “omits many other expenses,” some of which are “limited by secrecy, faulty accounting and the deferral of current costs.”

We’ve sent $75 billion in aid to Ukraine for its defense against Russia, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Since World War II, per the Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact, the United States has given Israel $318 billion “in aid of all types, including military.” For each of the last 15 years or so, America has sent Israel between $3 and $4 billion. (Unlike the United States, Israel has universal healthcare, which, Haaretz reports, is just one of the perks that draw Americans to relocate there.) Since the war began just a month ago, about $300 million in Israeli government bonds have been purchased by 14 American states. The list includes Florida, which has bought up the most bonds, Georgia, and Texas, all states that have stubbornly refused to expand Medicaid here at home.

I do not mean to myopically focus on how money poured into war leaves us without healthcare. Let me also mention that we have been left without a Green New Deal, although the country has endured a record-setting $23 billion’s worth of climate disasters in 2023 alone, and Bloomberg finds that we’re bleeding $500 billion a year in climate-event costs. The pandemic Child Tax Credit expansion, allowed to lapse by Congress at the end of 2021—ostensibly to save the $109.5 billion annual cost—has resulted in child poverty rates doubling. If congressional Republicans have their way, there will be significant cuts to Social Security, aid to the disabled, Medicaid and Medicare, food stamps, WIC (which ensures that low-income moms, infants and kids have fruits and vegetables), childcare and Head Start early learning programs. The GOP wants to outright ban free school lunches, and to obstruct student loan debt relief. The party has even proposed slashing the budget for the CDC, which seems nothing short of sinister on the heels of a worldwide pandemic.

The president has requested $106 billion for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and border police—in addition to the already proposed $886 billion defense budget. Republicans, pretending they care about a national deficit they have driven up over two decades with tax cuts for the rich, are performatively haggling over numbers, submitting bills that would hamper IRS efforts to stop rich tax cheats from increasing the deficit further. The number of food-insecure households rose to 17 million in 2022, up from 13.5 million just one year prior, according to the USDA. There was an 11 percent increase in unhoused people between 2022 and this year, The Wall Street Journal reports, while a 2021 University of Chicago study found that 53 percent of people living in homeless shelters and over 40 percent who have no shelter at all are employed. But when the dust settles, I can assure you we will wind up with a bipartisan budget that prioritizes war, the military, and law enforcement. Sorry, poor folks. What are we—made of money?

Biden has called America’s war funding of Ukraine and Israel “a smart investment,” while Yellen says finding the money for both is “a priority.” Not so with keeping folks fed, housed, and secure. It never ceases to amaze what America finds a way to do when there is a will. There’s nothing new about the sentiment, I realize. But neither is the government’s miserliness when faced with helping people.

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