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President Donald Trump speaks with Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson in front of an F-35 during an event on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday, July 23, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

'Not One More Pandemic Relief Dollar for the Pentagon': 75 Groups Slam GOP Effort to Use Covid-19 Funds for Weapons of War

"Make no mistake: the Senate GOP is choosing to let people die in order to line the pockets of weapons manufacturer CEOs."

Jake Johnson

More than 70 progressive anti-war groups are calling on members of Congress to stop the Senate GOP from cramming another $30 billion in Pentagon funding into the next Covid-19 relief bill and instead focus their attention on providing desperately needed financial aid to frontline workers and the unemployed.

"We strongly oppose the proposal in the Republican 'HEALS Act' to provide an additional $30 billion to the Department of Defense," 75 organizations wrote in a letter (pdf) to congressional leaders of both parties on Tuesday. "The coronavirus pandemic has made it crystal clear that federal spending is dangerously misaligned with our national priorities and actual threats to human security."

"That's $30 billion not spent on PPE or ventilators. $30 billion not spent on keeping our families afloat during an economic collapse. $30 billion not spent on housing relief in the midst of an eviction crisis. $30 billion not spent on human needs."
—Stephen Miles, Win Without War
As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, the Senate GOP's legislative package calls for $29.4 billion in Pentagon spending on top of the $740.5 billion military budget the House and Senate approved with bipartisan support last week. The proposal includes hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for F-35 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, armored vehicles, and surveillance planes.

The nonpartisan budget watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense estimated in an analysis of the Republican legislation Tuesday that at least $18.8 billion of the proposed $29.4 billion in spending would "flow directly to the pockets of defense contractors" like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Stephen Miles, executive director of Win Without War, denounced as a "gross display of inhumanity" Republicans' attempt to slip a massive windfall for war profiteers into their coronavirus relief package.

"In total, that's $30 billion not spent on PPE or ventilators," said Miles. "$30 billion not spent on keeping our families afloat during an economic collapse. $30 billion not spent on housing relief in the midst of an eviction crisis. $30 billion not spent on human needs. Make no mistake: the Senate GOP is choosing to let people die in order to line the pockets of weapons manufacturer CEOs."

"We say once again: not one more pandemic relief dollar for the Pentagon," Miles added. "While hundreds of people in the U.S. die every day and with tens of millions unemployed, it's appalling that our already overfilled warmaking budget is getting another spending spree."

In a statement to the Washington Post on Tuesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) voiced opposition to the additional Pentagon funds.

"While doing nothing to address food security or provide payroll protection for state and local workers in critical jobs, Senate Republicans have instead splurged on weapons systems," Lowey said. "Amphibious ships don't feed hungry children, and the Senate Republican bill doesn't meet the desperate needs of the American people."

Below is the full letter from the 75 advocacy groups:

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, and Majority Leader McConnell, and Minority Leader Schumer,

As Congress continues to provide urgent and vital relief to the people of the United States in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we write to urge against providing additional money to the Pentagon in this fiscal year. With the additional $10.5 billion provided to the Pentagon as part of the Phase III package (P.L. 116-136,) the Pentagon’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 appropriated funding now totals over $756 billion and provides more than enough resources to respond to the pandemic. We strongly oppose the proposal in the Republican "HEALS Act" to provide an additional $30 billion to the Department of Defense.

The coronavirus pandemic has made it crystal clear that federal spending is dangerously misaligned with our national priorities and actual threats to human security. Over half of all spending appropriated by Congress annually goes to the Pentagon, leaving other federal agencies to compete with one another for scarce resources. In this context,the United States has chronically underfunded human and environmental needs while, particularly in recent years, passing historically high Pentagon budgets that foster militarism, enable endless war, engender waste, and sow corruption. To give just one example of the spending mismatch: the combined annual budgets of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Health and the annual U.S. contributions to the World Health Organization together equal just seven percent of the annual Pentagon budget. If our spending was in line with actual human security needs at home and abroad prior to the crisis, we may have been better prepared to confront the global pandemic.

Any arguments that the Pentagon cannot use existing resources to respond to the crisis should be met with considerable skepticism, for several reasons. First, the Trump administration has been able to find Pentagon resources for non-Pentagon spending when it wanted. By the end of this fiscal year, it will have redirected at least $13.3 billion toward the President's wasteful, dangerous, and politically-motivated border wall. Second, the Pentagon often ends up with excess balances that it returns to the U.S. Treasury. From FY 2013 -2018, the Pentagon returned $80 billion in unspent funds—a time when the budget was more than $100 billion less than it is today. Finally, the Pentagon is not transparent about how it will use the additional money it has already been appropriated. Former Office of Management and Budget official Mark Cancian has suggested that the Pentagon's share of the most recent supplemental spending package could be "used for virtually anything" and is "a classic 'slush fund.'" While extreme spending flexibility may be warranted in some cases, more constraints on how and where money is spent is essential for the sole federal agency that has never passed an audit.

There are a number of options for finding savings at the Pentagon that can be redirected toward this crisis, and the government's larger pandemic response. In the short term, there are likely to be savings from decreased operational tempo both in training and overseas operations, which will also prevent exposure to the virus of U.S. servicemembers. Given the steep drop in the price of oil, the Pentagon, as the world's largest purchaser of oil, stands to save billions. In addition, economic and public health realities will likely necessitate slower production of military hardware and arms, further saving funds while protecting the workforce. In the longer term,some estimates suggest that the Pentagon could save hundreds of billions of dollars by ending wars, reforming defense contracting, right-sizing the military services, scaling back or forgoing the purchase of legacy weapons systems, and closing overseas bases. Taking these steps would not only incur savings, but also create more security and stability in the U.S. and abroad.

As every family around this country has had to do, the Pentagon should not be immune from making tough decisions on how to reallocate its resources in light of this crisis. If taxpayers are being asked to adjust their budgets, surely the recipient of three quarters of a trillion of our tax dollars can be asked to do the same. Appropriating a dollar more to the Pentagon in FY 2020 would be throwing good money after bad. We urge you to focus your attention on the national pandemic response and economic relief for people across the United States rather than providing more money for the Pentagon's already overflowing coffers.

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