Dear Joe Manchin: Think Build Back Better Is Expensive? Wait Till You Hear the U.S. Defense Budget.

Updated Monday, Dec. 20, at 10:15 a.m. PT.

This December, the House voted to pass a single-year defense policy to the tune of almost $768 billion—more than double the yearly cost of the Build Back Better plan.

The highest profile hot-button argument on Capitol Hill these days is over President Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) plan to fund a robust “caregiving infrastructure.” If passed, the government would spend $1.75 trillion over the next decade on domestic programs, including establishing universal pre-kindergarten, subsidizing childcare, extending the expanded child tax credit, subsidizing free community college, providing 12 weeks of paid medical and family leave, help for low wage workers in home care and closing the Medicaid insurance coverage gap.

The main objection to BBB by Republicans and so-called “moderate” Democrats is the price tag—$1.75 trillion over 10 years. Broken down, it’s $350 billion per year. If that sounds like a lot of money, it is—until you compare it to the boys and their toys.

Last month, the House voted 316–113 to pass a single year $777.9 billion defense policy bill for 2022 that would increase service members’ salary by 2.7 percent and fund 13 additional combat ships. That’s more than double the yearly cost of the Build Back Better plan. And know this: The Pentagon asks for (and gets) more money every year, while BBB is a fixed amount over 10 years.

It goes without saying that BBB disproportionately benefits women, who have left the workforce in droves during the COVID-19 pandemic as it disrupted school and childcare arrangements. The numbers are grim: Overall, the U.S. economy added 194,000 new jobs in September, the second straight month of low growth after a summer where we were averaging about 1 million added jobs monthly. All of the September gains went to men—women actually lost 26,000 jobs.

Unemployment rates continue to be significantly higher for Black women, at 7.3 percent, and Latinas, at 5.6 percent. White women’s unemployment rate is now 3.7 percent—nearly the same as March 2020 when the rate was 3.6 percent.

We don’t need the proverbial rocket scientist to tell us why women’s jobs aren’t recovering. Lack of childcare and universal pre-kindergarten is one of the biggest reasons, along with the lack of paid family leave, meaning women have to quit their jobs when caregiving calls. The BBB would go a long way toward fixing that.

We don’t need a rocket scientist to tell us why women’s jobs aren’t recovering: a lack of childcare and universal pre-kindergarten, a lack of paid family leave. The Build Back Better Act would go a long way toward fixing that.

Within 10 years, Biden’s plan would guarantee workers 12 weeks of paid leave, which could be used “to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill loved one, deal with a loved one’s military deployment, find safety from sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence, heal from their own serious illness or take time to deal with the death of a loved one,” according to an outline released by the White House.

Looking at just one part of the plan, the national paid family and medical leave program would cost around $225 billion over a decade. It would be mostly paid for by upping taxes on the wealthy, like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk Warren Buffett, George Soros and Michael Bloomberg, who pay zero in taxes in some years.

Another huge boost from BBB that would primarily benefit women is in support for home care and early childhood care. Home care and early childhood occupations jointly represent 2.2 percent of employment in the United States. Proposed investments would create jobs in these caregiving sectors so that, ultimately, the occupations would represent almost three percent of total employment. (By contrast, construction laborers account for 0.66 percent of total employment.)

Predictably, early childhood and home care occupations are held predominately by women. And an estimated 54 percent of home health aides are women of color, with Black women comprising more than half of the women of color in these jobs. This is largely due to the United States’ longstanding occupational segregation and its history of gender and racial discrimination.

The $400 billion proposal in President Biden’s package would create more than 777,000 good-paying home care jobs across the country over the next decade, addressing the industry’s severe job shortage, according to a new analysis from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Center for American Progress. These would be living-wage jobs with the chance for workers to join a union, at the same time expanding access to care for people with disabilities and aging adults. And it finally delivers a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who call our nation home.

All good stuff—but will we get it? Right now the horse-trading on Capitol Hill is centered on what could be cut, not how to fully fund the proposal. I’m all for tapping the tax cheat guys (and notice, they are all guys), but maybe we should take a harder look at those boy toys too. The military budget has increased close to $100 billion per year since 2015 and there’s no indication it will slow down. 

Gee, as the country with the most expensive military on earth, could we possibly consider getting by with fewer ships, guns and bombs to boost America’s lowest paid workers—aka women?

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Martha Burk is money editor at Ms.