Congress spends on wars, ignoring low-wage workers

The 2020 presidential election year should be an opportunity for citizens to express their opinions at the ballot box. Whether voters are able to express themselves about important personal issues becomes less likely with every passing month.

Public opinion polls report that top public concerns are creating good jobs with good benefits coupled with health care and education affordability. That shouldn't be a surprise.

In January the Brookings Institution reported that "53 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 – accounting for 44% of all workers – qualify as low wage." Low wage is defined as median hourly wages of $10.22 – about $18,000 annually in the national sample.

Brookings' data reported 29,766 low-wage workers in Springfield's Metro Statistical Area, which is about 38% of Springfield's 79,166 workforce. Bloomington's MSA had 29,591 low-wage workers; Peoria's MSA had 50,571 low-wage workers; Decatur's MSA had 16,849. All four communities reported about 38% to 41% of their total workforce as low-wage.

Surprisingly, some high-wage "superstar regions" leave many workers at low wages. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco MSA had 712,570 low-wage workers – 38.1% of the workforce. That's in the same range as central Illinois' 38% to 41%.

So a low-wage workforce is a national problem. And yet ... impeaching President Trump, and funding endless Middle East wars have dominated Washington's congressional agenda. Ending Congress's authorized spending of trillions in faraway places could have positive benefits for American workers.

In March of 2019, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) projected the cost of bringing America's infrastructure to a state of good repair by 2025 at a cost of $4.6 trillion.

Imagine the upgraded roads, bridges, sewer and water systems and dozens of other spending priorities we could fund if we stopped fighting endless wars.

Let's not confuse Democratic vs. Republican Party congressional partisanship with meaningful issues. The vast majority of House and Senate Democrats are as much to blame as Bush, Obama and now, Trump, for the last 18 years of military spending.

Twenty-nine Democratic senators, including former senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, voted to authorize invading Iraq in October 2002. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Springfield, was one of 23 senators voting against President Bush's Iraq War resolution.

However, I can't think of any sustained effort to cut off military spending by either party's congressional leadership.

In June 2009, during President Obama's first year in office, Washington Democrats controlled both the House and Senate. With this complete control, Democrats approved an "emergency" $106 billion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate vote was 91-5 with all but three Republicans voting in favor. Sen. Durbin voted for more war funding, while Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, voted against it.

Even Durbin's 2002 no vote wasn't an antiwar vote, as he supported the Iraq War if Bush pulled in support from the United Nations. In other words, Durbin never exposed the basic underlying foolishness that America could "bring Iraqis democracy" through "regime change."

"This resolution still authorizes unilateral, go-it-alone invasion of Iraq," Durbin explained as he offered a coalition-building amendment on the Senate floor in 2002. "[The Bush] resolution contains no requirement to build a coalition of allies behind us .... And that's why I've offered [my United Nations] amendment."

Many U.S. senators voting against the Bush administration's 2002 Iraq War resolution still supported invading Iraq with United Nations support. Perhaps that's the reason America remains locked into spending $6 trillion and counting on endless wars, while there are trillions of dollars in unmet domestic needs.

Let's not allow another presidential election to pass by without voters having a real choice concerning our tax dollar priorities. After all, in a democracy, we are only guaranteed one thing – we get the government we deserve.

Bill Edley is a 37-year Democratic Party activist, former Illinois Democratic Party state representative, Illinois Democratic National Convention delegate and Bernie 2016 field organizer. He earned a master's degree in economic history from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2012. He lives in Springfield.

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