It was Cyber Monday and the U.S. Navy put in a $22.2 billion order for new nuclear submarines but absolutely no headlines in the United States, pundits on Morning Joe, former presidents, nor elected politicians active on social media have been spotted asking this question in response to the massive purchase: How we gonna pay for it?
According to CNN, the contract issued on Monday is the Navy's "most expensive shipbuilding contract ever" and was awarded to weapons maker General Dynamics Electric Boat and subcontractors. "The massive contract for nine nuclear-powered, Virginia class attack submarines comes just months after the head of the US Navy in the Pacific warned of a massive Chinese naval buildup and his trouble in getting enough submarines to counter it," the news oulet reported.
"If you're following the presidential race, you've heard plenty of sniping about Medicare for All and whether we can afford it. But when it comes to endless war or endless profits for Pentagon contractors, we're told we simply must afford it—no questions asked."
—Lindsay Koshgarian, National Priorities Project As progressive lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and 2020 Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders have pointed out, the "how we gonna pay for it" question has become a common mantra among the "elite D.C. pundit" class and "deficit scolds" when public benefits like tuition-free higher education, Medicare for All, and paid family are proposed—but rarely if ever deployed against massive military expenditures like the "ultra-costly, underwhelming" F-35 fighter jet, the $6.4 trillion thrown at the endless "war on terrorism," or these latest Virginia class attack submarines.
"If you're following the presidential race," Lindsay Koshgarian, director of the National Priorities Project at the Insitute for Policy Studies, wrote in a column last week, "you've heard plenty of sniping about Medicare for All and whether we can afford it. But when it comes to endless war or endless profits for Pentagon contractors, we're told we simply must afford it—no questions asked."
While a search of social media and news reporting turned up no evidence of elected lawmakers speaking out or asking questions about the cost of the Navy's latest order, Albert Lee, running in the 2020 Democratic primary to unseat incumbent Rep. Earl Blumenauer in Oregon's 3rd congressional district, did make the connection between Pentagon spending and what else that money might possibly fund.
"$22 billion could fund a lot [of kids] learning," Lee said. "We need an education race; not a wasted arms race."
$22b could fund a lot a kids a learning. We need an education race; not a wasted arms race. $22b could fund a lot infrastructure rebuilding. We need to rebuild America instead of wasting it on some role playing game fantasy. https://t.co/dNF2TDWmB7
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— Albert Lee For Congress (@AlbertLee2020) December 3, 2019
Last week, senior advisor to the Bernie Sanders campaign Winnie Wong raised the issue of Pentagon spending—including the Navy's nuclear submarine plan—in a series of tweets:
Lets talk about the United States submarine force. We currently have 70 active nuclear powered submarines, the Navy wants to build 30 more at a cost of 3 billion dollars each. That is 90 billion dollars. We could #EndHomelessness and have surplus to build affordable housing.
— Winifred (@WaywardWinifred) November 26, 2019
Otherwise on Twitter, it was seemingly regular people with just a few followers who saw the story Monday and had a similar reaction as Lee. "Wow! That's a lot of houses for the U.S. homeless," declared one. Another linked to CNN's coverage and then quoted the late hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur: "They got money for war but can't feed the poor."
In a statement on Monday, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, applauded the Navy's new contract and heralded "these next generation submarines" for providing "our forces with a distinct national security advantage." The massive weapons, he added, "are an unmatched tool for deterrence."
Just don't ask how we're going to pay for them.