The National Priorities Project, a small Northampton nonprofit funded primarily through individual donations of $50 or less, was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. The group’s policy and economics experts dig into the annual budget and disseminate their analysis to increase understanding of how the nation spends its money. National Priorities Project executive director Jo Comerford spoke with reporter Megan Woolhouse. Here’s what she found out.
1The International Peace Bureau committee, including 13 Nobel laureates, nominated the National Priorities Project, saying that the United States spends more than any other nation on military and that “few have devoted as much energy to studying the budget process” as NPP to address “the task of reallocating the enormous sums devoted to the military, in order to instead address vital issues” such as inequality, unemploymentand education.
“We can’t just go cut 10 percent of the Pentagon budget,” says Comerford. “What we have to do as a nation and a Congress is redefine the word ‘security’ and think about what makes us secure and get solid good info out there about our nation’s military budget, unfettered information dosed not so much in rhetoric, but real facts. “
The project publishes and distributes “The People’s Guide to the Federal Budget” as a way to make the most complex budgets understandable to everyday people.
“Our nation used to produce a citizen guide to the national budget. It stopped with the Clinton administration. We thought, ‘How crazy is that? This budget will be visited on America and we can’t intervene?’ ”
The group has been actively researching the impact of the automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration.
“I’m for people understanding that a budget is about two things: how we’re going to [fund] our budget and how we’re going to spend it. We shine a spotlight deep, deep, deep into the bowels of the budget and we show people the places where they need to work — the most compelling, egregious, concerning, or the most hopeful. We try to really encourage people to form their own opinion.”
The group has a public policy and economic analysis staff of eight and plans to hire two more analysts soon. Through its own experiences, it is very familiar with the challenges of funding and prioritizing a budget. About 70 percent of its $1.2 million a year budget comes from individual donations of $50 or less. The rest comes in grants from various foundations.
“If we have to make hard choices about resources, which we do every day, then we focus on issues affecting women, young people, and people of color. These three constituencies are disproportionately marginalized from the federal budget process.”
Comerford said polls show more than 50 percent of Americans want to see tax changes that would require the wealthiest 2 percent to pay a higher rates and eliminate tax breaks that primarily benefit corporations and the rich.
“We did a big piece of work around tax [breaks], and the work we did uncovered both the labyrinth of tax [breaks], and it also showed who’s benefiting. The top 10 tax breaks disproportionately benefit the wealthy.”
Its research suggests that more federal spending, not less, could combat high rates of joblessness and help put the near-record numbers of long-term unemployed back to work.
“Every single federal dollar spent creates a job. The federal budget is a job creation tool. About 80 percent of all revenue generated in the federal budget is from individuals, so that makes us major stakeholders, major owners of the federal budget. It’s up to the people to make our voices heard about the kind of investment they want the government to make in our communities.”
The food stamps program constitutes about 3.5 percent of the federal budget, while nearly 60 percent of all federal discretionary spending goes to defense.
“We begrudge the most vulnerable among us nutrition. If you’re a fiscal person like I am, you know that food stamps is one of the most effective ways to support the economy. It goes right to the bottom and raises all boats.”Megan Woolhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.