A former tank captain turned county prosecutor and political activist breezed through Payson last week to promote a new organization seeking to enlist military veterans to push for a balanced budget, low taxes and deep cuts in domestic spending programs.
Concerned Veterans for America Southwest Regional lead Mike Mitchell mostly wants to pursue an “economic freedom” agenda, but the group has also become involved with issues affecting veterans — like finding jobs for returning combat veterans and ensuring veterans become politically active. He sought attention for the group last week in a series of radio and newspaper interviews in Payson.
“Our focus is on the grassroots,” said Mitchell. “We don’t want to be another American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars — we want to develop a grassroots structure nationally. Lots of times veterans coming home are just discouraged. But veterans should be leaders in their communities. Don’t be afraid to get involved.”
The West Point graduate who served four years in the tank corps mostly in Germany said the organization grew out of a group of veterans who formed to support the presidential campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCain, himself a Navy pilot who endured torture and a long imprisonment in Vietnam.
However, the group has now become a non-profit group that focuses on economic policy. He said the Concerned Veterans for America has about 20 staff members nationally, but no offices. He declined to say where the group gets its money — or how much money it spends. He said the group doesn’t have members, but so far has 120,000 “likes” on its Facebook page.
“We’re independent. We don’t have crony capitalism. We’re a 501 C4 so we can engage in political activity. McCain has no connection to us now. We’re a center-right organization, but we don’t donate to campaigns. We’re supported by a network of private donors.”
During an interview, Mitchell mostly supported Republican positions on the military and budget issues.
He wants to reform military spending by “cutting fat without hurting muscle.” However, he would mostly devote the savings to bolstering military forces.
Currently, the U.S. spends more on its military than the next 10, highest-spending countries in the world combined. Although President Bill Clinton made a start on reducing military spending as part of the “peace dividend” after the end of the Cold War, the subsequent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan boosted military spending again.
However, Mitchell said the nation’s military had grown too small at the start of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. didn’t have enough troops to send in initially, which allowed things to get out of control — and resulted in a decade of war. “I believe in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: I think we needed better strategy and tactics.”
Mitchell also called for tax cuts and domestic spending cuts to balance the budget and stimulate the economy.
The nation’s military might depends on its economy, he said. “Here’s the issue. If we have a more prosperous economy — we’ll have a stronger military. You simply can’t continue to have a sound military if you don’t have a sound economy ... The national debt is a threat to national security.”
However, Mitchell offered few specifics on what domestic spending the nation should eliminate to lower taxes, balance the budget and maintain military spending at close to the present levels.
Currently, the federal government spends about $3.8 trillion annually, with a deficit spending shortfall of about $1.3 trillion.
The discretionary spending includes $865 billion for defense and $520 billion for everything else, like welfare, highways, local government assistance, unemployment, education, parks, national forests and a host of other programs.
The mandatory spending goes mostly for entitlement programs and the debt. That includes $730 billion for Social Security, $491 billion for Medicare to provide medical care for seniors and $287 billion for Medicaid to provide medical care for the poor and for impoverished seniors in nursing homes. The mandatory spending also includes $251 billion in payments on the $16 trillion national debt.