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Sens. Tim Kaine and Jack Reed speak during a hearing

Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are seen during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on July 13, 2021. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

'A Huge Outrage': Senate Panel Approves $25 Billion Pentagon Budget Increase

"Not so incidentally, the $25 billion spending increase approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee exactly matches the cost to scale up Covid-19 vaccine production to meet global demand."

Jake Johnson

The Senate Armed Services Committee agreed Thursday to add $25 billion to President Joe Biden's already massive $715 billion Pentagon spending request, a move that prompted immediate outrage from progressive activists who have been demanding cuts to the bloated U.S. military budget.

"Just the proposed $25 billion increase to the Pentagon budget alone could end homelessness in the United States, making clear that senators are more interested in increasing the profits of military contractors than meeting the needs of everyday working people," said Carley Towne, co-director of the anti-war group CodePink.

"Senators are more interested in increasing the profits of military contractors than meeting the needs of everyday working people."
—Carley Towne, CodePink

"While millions of Americans are steeped in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, facing eviction, and struggling to pay medical bills amidst an ongoing health pandemic and recession," Towne continued, "the Senate Armed Services Committee decided to hurl even more taxpayer dollars at an increasingly privatized for-profit war industry."

Narrowly controlled by Democrats and chaired by hawkish Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the Senate panel voted 23-3 to approve a $740.3 billion Pentagon budget for Fiscal Year 2022. The proposed Defense Department outlay is part of the sprawling National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which—if the Senate Armed Services Committee gets its way—will include $777.9 billion (pdf) in military spending for the coming fiscal year.

Because of its role in setting defense policy—which determines subsidies and other rewards to private industry—the Senate Armed Services Committee is awash in cash from military contractors. According to OpenSecrets, Reed's top contributors during the 2020 campaign cycle included Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, two of the leading beneficiaries of federal contracts.

Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen, said in a statement Thursday that "anyone who cares about our national security should oppose this increase in Pentagon spending and demand... that the funds that would have gone to the Pentagon instead be allocated to global Covid-19 vaccine production or other human needs priorities."

"When the coronavirus has demonstrated that all the guns in the world can't protect our national security; when the U.S. spends more on its military than the next eleven nations combined; when we are withdrawing from Afghanistan and therefore reducing required military expenditures; when the Pentagon can't pass an audit; when the Pentagon continues to lavish funds on the F-35 which is ten years behind schedule, double the original price tag and plagued by performance issues (like engines that don't work); what possible justification is there for increasing the Pentagon budget over and above the increase already requested by the Biden administration?" Weissman asked.

"Not so incidentally," he added, "the $25 billion spending increase approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee exactly matches the cost to scale up Covid-19 vaccine production to meet global demand."

In addition to money for the Pentagon, the Senate panel's proposed NDAA includes nearly $30 billion in funding for the Department of Energy, which manages the nation's nuclear stockpile. Just a day after more than 20 Democratic lawmakers demanded reductions in the United States' nuclear arsenal, the Senate Armed Services Committee called for "recapitalizing and modernizing the U.S. nuclear triad."

The House and Senate must ultimately agree to identical legislation for the NDAA to become law. Given the narrow margins in both chambers, progressive members of Congress could credibly threaten to tank any bill that includes what they consider to be excessive funding for the Pentagon.

In March, 50 House Democrats led by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) demanded cuts to Defense Department budget, arguing the money would be better spent on "diplomacy, humanitarian aid, global public health, sustainability initiatives, and basic research."

But Biden ignored the Democrats' call, requesting $715 billion for the Pentagon—an increase from the current $704 billion spending level approved under former President Donald Trump.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) was among the House Democrats who took Biden to task for proposing a larger Pentagon budget than his predecessor.

"We need a fundamental shift in how we address national security issues and invest in climate action and pandemic response," Khanna, the deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in April. "Those are the issues impacting the security of the American people and will keep Americans safer than spending billions on more deadly weapons."

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