As a hardworking taxpayer, you’ll settle up with the IRS in the next few weeks. Whether you write a check for the remainder of your share of the taxes or request a refund because you overpaid, you’ll be acutely aware of how much you paid the feds this year.

But do you know how Congress spent your money?

For too long, the Pentagon’s share of our taxes has been growing at the expense of other efforts to protect our security. As a result, the nation gets what it pays for: war. The United States is good at fighting wars, but not as good at preventing wars and at promoting human security. Why? Because congressional attention and your tax dollars routinely flow toward military spending.

War is not the answer. Congress should stop lining the deep pockets of weapons manufacturers and military contractors, and start investing our tax dollars in civilian capacities to prevent war and build the security provided by civil order.

Peace is possible through peaceful means. If more of our budget were invested in civilian efforts, we would conserve precious tax dollars and create a more secure country. Pentagon chief Robert Gates is among the leaders who say the United States needs more investments in diplomacy and development to help prevent wars before they break out.

Yet Congress still isn’t listening. This year, it approved a $687 billion budget for the Pentagon, nuclear weapons, and fighting wars. Six-hundred eighty-seven billion dollars: That’s more than at any other time since World War II. Worse, military spending is expected to increase by another 25 percent over the next decade, not including what we pay to wage wars.

As a taxpaying voter, I want Congress to set different priorities in the federal budget. While families around the country tighten their belts, and many communities face deep cuts in libraries, schools, and other community services, our Quaker lobby is working with national and local groups, religious leaders, school teachers, city council members, and others to urge Congress to raise questions about the direction of federal spending. If we look ahead 10 years, do we want Congress to continue giving the Pentagon a blank check?

Take a moment to write a letter to your senators and representative today. Don’t tell these elected leaders what to do, just ask them a yes or no question: Will you stop giving the Pentagon a blank check? Will Congress keep Pentagon and military contractors rolling in dough, or will it begin to invest in real security to protect the United States from the threats of the 21st century?

Here are three areas where federal spending priorities for new investments could make a difference:

Diplomacy, Development and International Cooperation:
Congress should dramatically increase funding for a corps of diplomats who are trained to peacefully prevent deadly conflict, create foreign-aid programs that root out causes of violent conflicts, and support international agencies with a proven record of building peace.

Green Jobs to Restore the Earth and Our Economy:
Congress should fund more green jobs, environmental protection, and sustainable energy. Creating green jobs will replace decaying systems with the 21st-century infrastructure essential to our future. Also, disputes over waning fossil fuel and water resources breed violent conflict; investment in green industries and sustainable energy will build real security by preventing disputes over access to diminishing natural resources.

Human Needs: The average student graduating from high school this year will have between six and 10 different jobs demanding different skills during her or his lifetime. Is the nation preparing our young people to live productive, healthy lives? Congress should fund essential state expenditures to maintain a strong safety net and reduce poverty, while strengthening health care, housing, and education.

You elected members of Congress to look ahead and plan for the future. What plans are your elected officials making in Washington to strengthen our country in the future?

Joe Volk is executive director of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a non-partisan Quaker lobby in the public interest.

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