Dick Cheney emerged from his undisclosed location in Wyoming earlier this week to grumble about the new budget proposal that his fellow Republican, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, is pushing. Taking into account the postwar reality the country is about to move into after more than a decade of sustained conflict, as well as rising pension obligations, the budget cuts military spending from the projected $716 billion spent in 2013 to $496 billion.
Despite following well-established trends in military spending—postwar forces have been drawn down in similar measure since the Korean War—Cheney told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that the “absolutely dangerous” budget is a sign that President Obama wants to invest more in social programs.
The former vice president and former Halliburton CEO said the commander-in-chief “would rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.”
Cheney hasn’t been all that active in public life since 2008, so it’s possible that he wasn’t aware that Obama recently signed a new version of the farm bill that cut SNAP spending by $8.7 billion. But in the Fox News world, Obama is still the Food Stamp President, the man who helps keep the 47 percent voting for Democrats through a series of handouts and freebies. It’s a convincing narrative, on one level, when you consider the record-high numbers that SNAP enrollment has hit while Obama has been in office—years that aligned with the largest financial disaster since the Great Depression.
And what of the Bush years? Well, as Al Sharpton’s MSNBC show, Politics Now, pointed out on Tuesday, SNAP enrollments increased by 16.2 million people between 2001 and 2009. In the first five years of the Obama administration, SNAP enrollments have increased by 14.1 million people. Not to say that this is any kind of competition—the safety net should respond to the needs of the time, and Bush had the post-9/11 recession and the beginnings of the Great Recession in 2007 and ’08 sending people SNAP’s way.
Antihunger advocates certainly wouldn’t mind diverting cash from the military budget—which represented a full 20 percent of federal spending in 2011, compared with 13 percent for all safety net programs; they widely considered SNAP to be underfunded before last November’s budget reduction and the cuts in the new farm bill came along. But that windfall isn’t heading hungry Americans’ way. As for the Pentagon, $496 billion may look lean and mean in the highly militarized post-9/11 context of the Global War on Terror. But China, the world’s second-largest military spender, pumps just $166 billion into the war machine every year.