When it comes to saving money from the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the second-highest ranking Senate Democrat apparently wants to bridge presidential rhetoric with reality.
When he announced his decision to pull some 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, President Obama remarked, “America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.”
In addition to the troops he intends to bring home this year, Obama promised to have withdrawn a total of 33,000 by next summer.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a longtime Obama ally, seems to want to take the president at his word.
Durbin, assistant majority leader in the Senate, released a message Friday via the Twitter service which read, “With #Afghanistan #drawdown started, we should use some of $10b/mo spent on war effort #nationbuilding here—creating #jobs&reducing #deficit.”
In his message, Durbin appears to be proposing to redirect at least some of the $10 billion the United States spends per month on its operations in Afghanistan towards jobs creation and reducing the federal budget deficit.
Jobs and the deficit are two key issues. The nation’s unemployment rate remains stubbornly high over 9 percent, while Republicans have been vocal and strident in insisting that the federal budget deficit be tamed now.
Durbin’s message appears to represent the highest-ranking proposal to explicitly re-purpose military spending toward domestic priorities, or a “drawdown dividend” of sorts.
In his speech from the White House this week, Obama laid out his path to wind down the long war in Afghanistan, which has been ongoing for a decade and has taken the lives of about 6,000 American service personnel.
A majority of Americans want to end the war now, according to recent opinion polls, and even many lawmakers in Obama’s own Democratic Party want an even faster exit from Afghanistan.
In his Twitter message, Durbin also appears to be echoing the recent call made by U.S. mayors who, meeting in Baltimore, also say they want to end the war in Afghanistan and instead spend the funds on creating in the United States.
“We recognize the difficult decisions President Obama must make in balancing foreign affairs, national security, and domestic needs. We applaud his directive to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by summer 2012. This is a strong step towards ending the war in Afghanistan and bringing our soldiers –- and the billions of dollars we spend each day –- home,” says Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, president of the nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“We urge Congress to honor our soldiers by putting ‘boots on the ground’ in cities across the country to create jobs for our men and women in uniform to come home to,” Villaraigosa adds. “Drawing down troop levels is step one. Increasing employment levels is step two. We need to use the billions of dollars we are currently spending in Afghanistan to rebuild our domestic economy. As President Obama rightly said, ‘it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.'”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.