Montana Voices: Bad tax policy harms national security

When we saw the recent news that the House of Representatives had just passed a massive tax cut for multi-national corporations that would add over $1.5 trillion to the national debt, we recalled a moment in 2010 when then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the national debt was the “single biggest threat to our national security.”

Having personally spent time overseas countering the terrorist threat to the United States, we understand the seriousness of Admiral Mullen’s assessment and know personally what’s at stake. We are deeply concerned that Congress is on the verge of adopting a tax policy that would greatly undermine our country’s strength at home and its ability to project power abroad.

Don’t get us wrong – some deficit spending to fund targeted investments in infrastructure and education could make our country stronger and more competitive, but the policy Congress is advancing sets us on the wrong course.

Our rivals on the world stage know the strategic value of massive investments in public education. China, for example, already graduates more than eight times the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math than the United States. We’ve seen too clearly how other countries have quickly advanced their cyberwarfare capabilities. Without decisive investment in the future, there will not be enough highly-skilled Americans trained and ready to fight back.

The US House of Representative’s proposed changes to the tax code would gut American higher education and weaken national security. For example, tuition waivers allowing graduate students to engage in advanced studies would be redefined as taxable ‘income’. The result? Overnight, the tax burden on graduate students would more than double. Countless American students would be shut out from top programs in computer science, nuclear engineering, and critical languages like Chinese and Arabic. These are the exact fields our military and civilian agencies need to defend against rapidly evolving threats to American security.

Imagine if our space program wasn’t staffed by top scientists, but by mediocre ones simply lucky enough to be born into wealth. Imagine if the analyst deciphering chatter on terrorist networks rose to their position not because they were the brightest, but because they were among the few with a trust fund to pay for their education. This would be the new reality under the proposed tax regime and would not only compromise American national security, but also cause the United States to fall further behind the world in scientific achievements, thereby damaging our country for generations to come.

Furthermore, most Americans won’t even see any significant short-term benefits. Millions, including small business owners, will actually see their taxes rise. Eliminating personal exemptions and deductions for state taxes will hit Montanans particularly hard. Thirteen million Americans are expected to lose health insurance. Premiums are guaranteed to rise, as will medical-related bankruptcies.

Who will benefit? According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, those with incomes above $730,000 will get a big tax break. The heirs of the wealthiest people in America will now collect their inheritance with little to no taxes paid. Corporations will have greater incentive to fire Americans and ship their jobs overseas. The few provisions meant to provide middle class tax relief are temporary. The corporate tax cuts? Permanent.

As individuals who have served our nation overseas in harm’s way, we say this with great seriousness: the Senators and Representatives who support such policies are threatening American national security. These politicians should be willing to release their own tax returns, to show just how much they will personally benefit.  If they are unwilling to do that, then you know whose interests they’re really serving. It’s not the United States of America, and it’s not the people of Montana.

This piece has been signed by Montanans for National Security members Julie Sirrs, Andrew Person, and Danny Tannenbaum.  Our organization includes former national security professionals with extensive experience serving and protecting U.S. interests at home and abroad.  The authors are all Montana residents.