Sep 24, 2021
In a bipartisan 316-113 vote on Thursday night, the U.S. House authorized a $778 billion military budget for fiscal year 2022. Every Republican voted against two amendments to reduce Pentagon spending, but Democrats were split, and a new analysis reveals that lawmakers who rejected the proposed cuts received far more campaign cash from the weapons industry than those who supported the cuts.
"Our biggest problems can't be solved by more ships, planes, or missiles."
--Lindsay Koshgarian, IPS
One amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), introduced by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), would have slashed the overall spending authorization level by 10%, exempting the paychecks and health benefits of military personnel and the Defense Department's federal civilian workforce.
The measure failed by a tally of 86-332. According to an analysis of OpenSecrets data by the Security Policy Reform Institute (SPRI) and Sludge, the Democrats who voted against the 10% Pentagon budget cut have taken, on average, 3.7 times more campaign money from arms manufacturers since January 2019 than the Democrats who voted for it.
Sludge's Donald Shaw and SPRI's Stephen Semler wrote Friday that "the average amount of defense cash received by Democrats who opposed the amendment was $60,680, while the Democrats who supported it received an average of $16,497" in contributions from the PACs of Defense Department contractors "as well as donations larger than $250 from those companies' employees."
"The vote was a step backwards for House progressives," noted Shaw and Semler, who added that:
Last year, an identical amendment was put forward and it received 93 votes in favor, seven more than it received yesterday. Nine Democrats switched from supporting the 10% reduction last year to opposing it this year: Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.), Dwight Evans (Pa.), Al Green (Texas), Bill Keating (Mass.), Robin Kelly (Ill.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Richard Neal (Mass.), Brad Sherman (Calif.), and Bennie Thompson (Miss.).
Earlier this month, the House Armed Services Committee voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored amendment to add $23.9 billion on top of President Joe Biden's proposed $753 billion military budget for fiscal year 2022--already up from the $740 billion approved for the previous fiscal year under the Trump administration.
A second NDAA amendment, led by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), would have restored military spending to the level requested by the president. That proposal for a modest 3% cut to the NDAA's top-line figure garnered the support of a majority of--but not all--House Democrats and was shot down in a 142-286 vote.
Sludge reported that "the 77 Democrats who opposed the 3% cut have received, on average, $52,211 from the defense sector since January 2019, and the 142 Democrats who supported it have received an average of $35,898."
Lindsay Koshgarian, program director of the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), told Common Dreams on Friday that "the passage of the $23.9 billion increase in the House is particularly strong evidence that Pentagon contractors' interests easily take precedence over national security and the public interest for too many members of Congress."
As she spoke in support of Pocan's amendment on Wednesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) pushed back against the narrative that cutting Pentagon spending would make Americans less safe, emphasizing how easy it would be to find the funds.
"There is no reason for us to be increasing our military spending and our defense budget when we are not funding childcare, healthcare, [and] housing priorities."
--Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)
"The Pentagon could save almost $58 billion by eliminating obsolete weapons, weapons like Cold War-era bombers and missiles designed and built in the last century that are completely unsuitable for this one," said Ocasio-Cortez.
"We could find another $18 billion by simply preventing the end-of-year spending sprees that lead to contract money being shoveled out the door every September," she added, echoing Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) observation earlier this week that the Pentagon--which has never passed an audit--is "inherently susceptible to fraud."
Ocasio-Cortez also stressed that people in the U.S.--which spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined and is poised to increase funding even further despite the recent withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan--would be better served if the federal government invested more in meeting their needs.
"Each September, as offices at the Pentagon go on last-minute spending sprees to justify next year's budget increases, we have increased our military spending year after year, senselessly and needlessly," she said. "And now, again, during a time when we have ended an almost two-decade war, there is no reason for us to be increasing our military spending and our defense budget when we are not funding childcare, healthcare, housing priorities, and the climate crisis here at home."
In a statement released in the wake of the House's defeat of the proposed Pentagon budget cuts and its approval of the $778 billion NDAA, Koshgarian doubled down on the points made by Ocasio-Cortez.
"Pentagon spending has enabled disastrous wars and windfalls for military contractors, alongside widespread neglect of progress and investment here at home," said Koshgarian.
"With a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than one in 500 Americans, and with nearly one in three of us having lived through a climate-related weather disaster this summer alone," she added, "it's dangerously out of touch to continue funding the Pentagon at current levels. Our biggest problems can't be solved by more ships, planes, or missiles."
Sludge noted that "in terms of per-year expenditures, the amount authorized by this bill is well over twice as large as the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill currently being developed by congressional Democrats."
In contrast to the federal government's plan to spend over two times more on war than on eradicating poverty and addressing the climate emergency, the U.S. public has shown that it supports the Build Back Better Act. Moreover, a majority of voters want to reallocate 10% of the military budget to meet human needs, a Data for Progress survey found last year.
The House passage of the NDAA came just over a week after researchers at Brown University's Costs of War project estimated that as much as half of the $14 trillion that the Pentagon has spent since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan two decades ago has gone to private military contractors. IPS' Koshgarian and SPRI's Semler, meanwhile, have both said that corporations gobbled up more than half.
"Since fiscal year 2001, military contractors have received over 54% of Pentagon spending, totaling about $8 trillion," Sludge noted. "Over $2.2 trillion of that went to the five largest weapons firms: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman. These five firms comprise about 40% of military industry cash given to federal candidates."
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