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Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley hold an end of year press conference at the Pentagon on December 20, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Sanders Files Amendments to Force Pentagon to Pass Clean Audit, Require Mass Production of Free Masks for All

"National security," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, "means doing everything we can to improve the lives of our people, many of whom have been abandoned by our government decade after decade."

Jake Johnson

Sen. Bernie Sanders late Tuesday filed a slate of amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act aiming to force the Pentagon to pass an independent audit, require the federal government to mass-produce and deliver free masks to everyone in the U.S., and bar funding for the Saudi-led assault on Yemen.

The amendments came in addition to the Vermont senator's plan to slash the Senate's proposed $740.5 billion Pentagon budget by 10% and redirect the savings toward funding healthcare, housing, education, and jobs in impoverished U.S. communities.

"If the horrific pandemic we are now experiencing has taught us anything it is that national security means a lot more than building bombs, missiles, jet fighters, tanks, submarines, nuclear warheads, and other weapons of mass destruction."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

"A major reason why there is so much waste, fraud, and abuse at the Pentagon is the fact that the Defense Department remains the only federal agency in America that hasn't been able to pass an independent audit," Sanders said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. "It is time to hold the Defense Department to the same level of accountability as the rest of the government."

Sanders' amendment (pdf)—introduced alongside Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Mike Lee (R-Utah)—would require the Pentagon to pass a clean audit by fiscal year 2025 and would penalize Defense Department agencies that fail to pass an audit by forcing them to return a portion of their budgets to the Treasury.

The Vermont senator also filed an NDAA amendment (pdf) that would use the Defense Production Act to mass-produce and distribute five free face masks per month to every person in the U.S. through the Postal Service—a proposal Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, endorsed during a Senate hearing earlier Tuesday.

"This amendment is about listening to the science and saving lives," Sanders said. "Here is what my amendment will do: It would require the Trump administration to use the Defense Production Act to make hundreds of millions of high-quality masks and deliver five of them, per person, directly to every household in America on a monthly basis, until the pandemic has ended."

"There are so many things we don't know about Covid-19," the Vermont senator continued. "But on this issue, the science is absolutely clear: masks save lives. We must act now to save tens of thousands of lives by forcing the Trump administration to follow basic science and protect the American people—and that's what this amendment is all about."

In addition to the major public health benefits of face masks, a team of economists at Goldman Sachs estimated that a nationwide mask mandate would save the U.S. economy $1 trillion by reducing the need for widespread lockdowns.

"A face mask mandate could potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5% from GDP," wrote Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs' chief economist.

As the Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham noted, "the authors of the report are economists and not public health experts" and "their primary motivation is to protect the economic interests of Goldman Sachs' investors, which is why they're interested in the effects of federal policy on gross domestic product."

"But their findings are in line with a number of other published studies on the efficacy of masks," Ingraham wrote.

Sanders' office on Tuesday released a summary of the senator's six amendments to the NDAA for fiscal year 2021:

  1. Cut 10% of annual Pentagon spending to invest in education, health care and poverty reduction in America's most marginalized communities. The amendment, cosponsored by Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Representatives Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), would take $74 billion in annual savings from the Pentagon—exempting salaries and healthcare—to create a domestic federal grant program to fund healthcare, housing, childcare, and educational opportunities for cities and towns experiencing a poverty rate of 25% or more. This amendment garnered the support of more than 60 national organizations fighting for economic, environmental, and racial justice, and peace.
  2. Require the federal government to manufacture and distribute high-quality face masks to every individual in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. In questioning by Sanders during today's Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed support for the proposal. A new study found that nationwide use of face masks would not only fight the virus and save lives, but it would save the U.S. economy $1 trillion. At a time when the Trump administration has failed to respond to the dire coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 130,000 Americans, the amendment would require the president to utilize the Defense Production Act and all available authorities to manufacture and procure face masks and distribute masks via the Postal Service to every household in the country.
  3. Require the Defense Department to pass a clean audit by Fiscal Year 2025. Sanders was joined by Senators Grassley (R-Iowa), Wyden (D-Ore.), and Lee (R-Utah) on the measure, which would penalize Pentagon agencies that fail to pass an independent audit by returning a portion of their annual budgets to the Treasury. The Pentagon is the only federal department in America that hasn't been able to pass an independent audit—30 years after Congress required it to do so.
  4. Prohibit funding for military aid and logistical support for unconstitutional and unauthorized U.S. military participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Senators Lee (R-Utah) and Murphy (D-Conn.) cosponsored the amendment. A bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate has already voted three times to halt all U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and in April 2019 a bipartisan, bicameral majority of Congress passed the first-ever War Powers Resolution in our American history to direct the withdrawal of unauthorized U.S. forces from a conflict. Sanders' landmark legislation, was vetoed by Trump in 2019.
  5. Provide statutory authorization for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon programs, which are state grants provided by the Department of Defense for programs which help members of the Armed Forces and their families in preparation for deployment, during deployment, and in reintegration post-deployment. These programs have helped thousands of service members, veterans, and their family members cope with the challenges associated with deployments and military service.
  6. Implement a 0.1% cut to the Pentagon budget and transfer that funding to the State Department for cultural and educational exchange programs between the people of the United States and other countries. These important programs bring young people, students, scholars, and professionals from other countries to the U.S. to see our country, experience what life is like here, meet our people, and send our people to other countries to do the same. These programs promote greater cultural awareness, understanding and cooperation between different countries and emphasizes our common humanity, while decreasing conflict.

"If the horrific pandemic we are now experiencing has taught us anything it is that national security means a lot more than building bombs, missiles, jet fighters, tanks, submarines, nuclear warheads, and other weapons of mass destruction," Sanders said in his floor speech Tuesday. "National security also means doing everything we can to improve the lives of our people, many of whom have been abandoned by our government decade after decade."

Watch the senator's full speech:

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