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U.S. tanks appear during a May 2016 military training exercise in Vaziani, Republic of Georgia. (Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Senate Slammed for Passing 'Bloated' NDAA But Delaying Build Back Better Act

"Don't tell me we can't afford to fight poverty, cancel student debt, pass paid leave, and defeat the climate crisis," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal after senators approved the $786 billion military spending bill.

Brett Wilkins

As a bill authorizing $778 billion in military spending breezed through the U.S. Senate Wednesday amid darkening prospects for the Build Back Better social and climate investment package, peace and civil society groups decried what they called the misplaced priorities that place the military-industrial complex and corporate greed above dire human and planetary needs.

"Where is all the hand-wringing over the $778 billion military bill that we've seen over Build Back Better, which costs less than a quarter as much annually?"

After passing the House of Representatives last week by a vote of 363-70—51 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted against it—88 senators voted to approve the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022, a policy measure that provides $25 billion more in Pentagon funding than requested by President Joe Biden and nearly $38 billion more than the last NDAA of former President Donald Trump's tenure.

Only 11 senators voted against the measure: New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker—who in an unusual move changed his vote from "yes" to "no"—Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

"Where is all the hand-wringing over the $778 billion military bill that we've seen over Build Back Better, which costs less than a quarter as much annually? Congress has completely abdicated their responsibility for the Pentagon budget," Lindsay Koshgarian, program director of the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams. "They may as well hand over a blank check."

The bipartisan ease with which the NDAA passed stood in stark contrast with the increasingly dim prospects for the Build Back Better Act, which passed the House without a single Republican vote last month but was on the verge of collapse Wednesday as Sen. Joe Manchin (W-Va.)—who voted "yes" on the NDAA—seeks to eliminate the boosted child tax credit, a move experts say would impoverish millions of children.

"Families will stop receiving child tax credit checks next month unless Congress finally passes the Build Back Better Act, but the flow of dollars to stockholders for Pentagon contractors will go on, uninterrupted," lamented Koshgarian.

Carley Towne, national co-director of the peace group CodePink, called the NDAA "a slap in the face to working people across this country."

"Over the past few months, Congress has been gridlocked over the possibility of spending $350 billion annually on healthcare, education, and green jobs," she told Common Dreams. "All of a sudden, when it comes to money for war, Congress once again shows that they are ready and willing to prioritize war profiteers over human needs."

Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said that "as the national debate centers around how much is 'too much' to be spending on the true needs of the American people, it is unconscionable to approve three-quarters of a trillion dollars for war-making, a sum that is $25 billion more than the president even requested."

"Why is there more money for the military-industrial complex—providing no additional protection for our national security and arguably diminishing it—at the same time the U.S. is refusing to spend the $25 billion needed to make enough additional vaccines to vaccinate the world?" he asked.

Even the right-wing National Taxpayers Union called the NDAA's $778 billion topline spending figure "unsustainable."

"The Pentagon budget can't go on growing forever," Koshgarian stressed. "We need more members of Congress to step up, as some principled members have done, and say no to bigger and bigger Pentagon budgets."

"We've seen powerful progressive movements achieve a lot over the last couple of years," she added, "and we can move the needle on Pentagon spending, too."


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