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Top VP Contenders Diverge as Warren Votes 'Yes' and Harris Votes 'No' on Slashing Pentagon Budget to Fund Health and Education

Sen. Kamala Harris' no vote "makes her a dubious choice" to be Joe Biden's running mate, said one progressive organizer.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on stage during the Democratic presidential debate at Texas Southern University's Health and PE Center on September 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, two leading contenders for the 2020 Democratic vice presidential nomination, voted opposite ways Wednesday on an amendment to slash the Pentagon budget by 10% and invest the savings in healthcare, housing, and education in impoverished U.S. communities.

Warren, a co-sponsor of the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), voted in favor of the measure while Harris voted against. The amendment, led by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), was defeated by a margin of 23-77, with 24 Democratic senators voting no. See the full roll call here.

"By voting against the proposal to cut 10% from the Pentagon budget and reinvest in housing, education, and poverty alleviation, Congress has chosen to double down on the failed status quo."
—Stephen Miles, Win Without War

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)—one of more than a dozen potential vice presidential picks being vetted by the Biden campaign—also voted against the amendment, which would have reduced the proposed $740.5 billion Pentagon budget for fiscal year 2021 by $74 billion.

Jeff Cohen, co-founder of the progressive advocacy group RootsAction.org, told Common Dreams that Harris' decision to vote with the GOP to defeat the proposed Pentagon cut "makes her a dubious choice" to be presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden's running mate.

"It suggests a failure to understand this historic moment when people are crying out for more funding for services to poor and working class communities and less funding to police and military," said Cohen. "Democrats who sided with Trump on this vote help provide cover to a Republican like Susan Collins, who needs to be retired from the Senate in November."

Last month, RootsAction.org and Progressive Democrats of America published an open letter urging Biden to pick Warren as his running mate, calling the Massachusetts senator a proven fighter for "the kinds of structural reforms that would lift up working-class families and communities."

In a series of tweets following Tuesday's vote, Sanders noted that "almost half the Senate Democratic Caucus—23 members—voted to cut Pentagon spending by 10% and invest in human needs."

"This is far and away the most significant step in recent years to address our bloated $740 billion military budget and changing our national priorities," wrote the Vermont senator. "We are going to continue building a political movement which understands that it is far more important to invest in working people, the children, the elderly, and the poor, than in spending more on the military than the next 11 nations combined."

The Senate vote came 24 hours after the House voted down an identical NDAA amendment led by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.). Potential vice presidential nominee Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), like Harris and Duckworth in the Senate, voted against the measure along with 138 other House Democrats.

Win Without War executive director Stephen Miles said in a statement Wednesday that "though Congress failed to rein in the out-of-control Pentagon budget, thanks to the leadership of Representatives Pocan, Lee, and Jayapal, and Senators Sanders, Markey, and Warren, and the collective efforts of movement organizations and people across the country, we have made one thing clear: the era of limitless Pentagon funding and endless wars is coming to an end."

"In this of all moments—in the midst of a deadly pandemic, a climate crisis, and a nationwide uprising against the violence-first institution of policing—it is all too clear that shoveling limitless funds at the Pentagon cannot buy us safety," said Miles. "By voting against the proposal to cut 10% from the Pentagon budget and reinvest in housing, education, and poverty alleviation, Congress has chosen to double down on the failed status quo. But the fight isn't over."

Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy and political affairs at Peace Action, said the defeat of the NDAA amendments shows "Congress remains out of step with voters, where over half want to see reductions in excessive Pentagon spending to pay for other priorities."

"The Pentagon is the only government agency that cannot pass an audit, has returned over $80 billion in funds it failed to spend since 2013, and half of the Pentagon's total budget is going straight into the pockets of war contractors," Martin said in a statement.

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