By Kenny Stancil / Common Dreams
As a handful of right-wing Democrats demand significant cuts to proposed anti-poverty programs and clean energy initiatives in their party’s far-reaching reconciliation package, a Senate panel on Monday approved an annual Pentagon budget of $725.8 billion—handing the U.S. military $29 billion more than last year and $10 billion more than requested, with no objection from Sens. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and other so-called deficit hawks.
“That’s $100 billion over 10 years—or half the cost of universal pre-K, which we’re told we can’t afford,” journalist Mehdi Hasan tweeted, referring just to the additional $10 billion in military spending approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel.
“They literally just threw it in there, extra, no questions asked, no media coverage, no political arguments,” Hasan added. “This whole funding/spending debate is so messed up.”
By contrast, the price tag of the Build Back Better Act—a popular bill endorsed by President Joe Biden that would raise taxes on corporations and on individuals with annual incomes above $400,000 in order to pay for a potentially historic expansion of social programs and climate action—has been met with close scrutiny from the corporate media and hand-wringing from conservative Democrats, including Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sinema (Ariz.), and a small group of House lawmakers led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.).
Aligning themselves with the Republican Party and an army of anti-working class lobbyists opposed to progressive reforms, those Wall Street-backed Democrats—swimming in corporate cash—are trying to weaken or eliminate life-saving provisions in the reconciliation bill in an effort to reduce its overall cost.
And yet, all of them have voted for every Pentagon budget since being elected. Despite rubber-stamping $9.1 trillion in military spending between 2011 and 2020, Manchin has derided the Build Back Better Act as “fiscal insanity” and called for slashing the legislation’s top-line spending level from $3.5 trillion over 10 years to $1.5 trillion over a decade.
As progressive critics have pointed out, it will take just two years for U.S. military spending to exceed Manchin’s preferred reconciliation bill price tag of $1.5 trillion. Unlike the increasingly massive Pentagon budget, which is annual, the Build Back Better Act’s proposed $3.5 trillion investment in healthcare, child care, housing, and renewable energy would be spread out over 10 years, with an average yearly expenditure of $350 billion.
Funding for the Pentagon constitutes most, but not all, U.S. military spending, which is approaching nearly $780 billion per year after the House Armed Services Committee in September voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored amendment to add $23.9 billion on top of Biden’s proposed $753 billion military budget for fiscal year 2022—already up from the $740 billion approved for the previous fiscal year under the Trump administration.
Self-styled “fiscal conservatives,” progressive critics observed, have no problem with spending over two times more on militarization than on eradicating poverty and addressing the climate emergency. Of the two budgets, only the reconciliation package is considered “too expensive,” noted Allen Hester of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker organization that lobbies Congress for peace and justice.
Meanwhile, when accounting for projected revenue raised through the reconciliation bill’s proposed tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the net cost of the Build Back Better Act drops to between $1 trillion and $1.75 trillion over a decade—or a per-year average of just $100 billion to $175 billion—amounting to roughly 0.3% to 0.6% of the GDP.
In a statement, anti-war group CodePink called the defense subcommittee’s decision to greenlight a further increase in military spending “unacceptable and a slap in the face to thousands of activists who have been tirelessly demonstrating in Washington D.C. for a federal budget that would adequately address the biggest threat to the future of our planet: climate change.”
While a majority of voters want to reallocate 10% of the military budget to meet human needs, according to a 2020 Data for Progress survey, congressional Republicans—as well as Democrats who receive greater amounts of money from the weapons industry—have rejected amendments to reduce funding for the Pentagon.
Approving a $29 billion increase in military spending “is not only outrageous,” said CodePink national co-director Carley Towne. “It’s dangerous and seriously threatens the future of life on our planet. The Pentagon emits more greenhouse gas pollution than 140 nations. We can not address a problem like climate change which requires global cooperation by continuing to fund destructive U.S. militarism at the expense of people and the planet.”
The defense subcommittee’s vote came in the wake of a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office—commissioned by Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—detailing how to cut $1 trillion in spending at the Defense Department over the next 10 years. As Sanders pointed out in May, the Pentagon has never passed an audit.
Towne said that Monday’s move by the Senate Appropriation Committee’s defense panel “shows they’re not only out of touch with working people in this country, but with even moderate attempts to cut wasteful spending from the Pentagon budget.”
“That’s not a surprise,” she added, considering that Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chair of the defense subcommittee, “has taken thousands in campaign cash from war profiteers.”
CodePink stressed that people in the U.S.—which spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined and is poised to increase funding even further despite the recent withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan—would be better served if the federal government invested more in meeting their needs.
“There has been no discussion from representatives who say we ‘can’t afford’ to spend $350 billion annually on healthcare, education, and green jobs about why they don’t support Rep. Barbara Lee’s [D-Calif.] House Resolution 476, which calls to cut the Pentagon budget by $350 billion and could easily pay for the entire Build Back Better agenda,” noted the peace group.
Citing a recent report from the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), which showed that the U.S. has spent more than $21 trillion on militarization since 9/11, Jacobin‘s Luke Savage on Monday argued that the nation’s military spending—now even higher than it was at the height of the Cold War—is not only wasteful but also fundamentally anti-democratic:
Military spending allocated for 2022 considerably exceeds the cost of five separate Green New Deal bills. For a miniscule fraction of what America spent on the two-decade-long “war on terror,” it could have fully decarbonized its electricity grid, eradicated student debt, offered free preschool, and funded the wildly popular and effective Covid-era’s anti-poverty Child Tax Credit for at least a decade. Spending public funds so lavishly on war inevitably means not spending them elsewhere, and it’s incredible to imagine what even a fraction of the money sucked up every year by America’s bloated military-industrial complex could accomplish if invested differently.
Fundamentally, however, the case against the Pentagon’s ever-expanding budget is a democratic one. Every year, the government of the world’s most powerful country now allocates more than half of its discretionary funds to what is laughably called “defense spending”—regardless, it turns out, of whether the nation is at risk of attack or officially at war.
“Corporate capture of Congress is a problem in most major policy areas,” he continued, “but defense contractors and other military concerns have a stranglehold that is arguably unmatched.”
Last month, researchers at Brown University’s Costs of War project estimated that as much as half of the $14 trillion spent by the Pentagon alone since its 2001 invasion of Afghanistan has gone to private military contractors. Lindsay Koshgarian, program director of the National Priorities Project at IPS, and her co-authors, as well as Stephen Semler of the Security Policy Reform Institute, meanwhile, have said that corporations gobbled up more than half.
Savage argued that “it’s certainly useful for anti-war voices to highlight the wasteful nature of military spending, and make the case that billions currently being spent on tanks, drones, and cruise missiles could be better used elsewhere.”
“But over half of discretionary public funds being cursorily earmarked every year to America’s bloated military apparatus,” he added, “represents an issue altogether more serious and profound than mere waste.”