The last time America found itself in a budget debate pitting domestic priorities against war expenditures, Richard Nixon was in the White House and David Obey was the youngest member of Congress — an antiwar liberal whose insurgent campaign unexpectedly vaulted him into the House seat vacated by the hawkish president’s new defense secretary. In those dark days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, as Obey was still learning his way around Washington, it was the guns of Vietnam and the Cold War versus the butter of the Great Society and the War on Poverty — and despite Obey’s protests, guns won the day.
Those comments are preposterous. Check the figures from the Office of Management and Budget. When RN took office in fiscal 1969, defense spending made up 44.9 percent of the budget, compared with 36.2 percent for human resources. When he left office in fiscal 1975, defense had plunged to 26 percent of the budget, while human resource spending had shot up to 52.1 percent. Never again has defense spending come close to human resource spending — even during the Reagan Administration, when we indeed had a long and intense debate about guns and butter.