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Peace activists gathered outside the Internal Revenue Service offices in Manhattan on April 15, 2021 to protest against spending federal tax dollars on the Pentagon and U.S. wars. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Pentagon Projected to Hand $407 Billion to Private Military Contractors This Fiscal Year

"There are over 700 lobbyists representing for-profit military contractors in D.C., and this redistribution of wealth is why they're there."

Kenny Stancil

President Joe Biden signed a record-shattering military budget earlier this week, and a new analysis published Thursday predicted that if recent contracting trends continue, the Pentagon will funnel $407 billion worth of public funds to private weapons makers this fiscal year—more than the federal government spent when sending $1,400 relief checks to most Americans in 2021.

Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, found that "from fiscal year (FY) 2002 to FY2021, 55% of all Pentagon spending went to private sector military contractors."

"If the privatization of funds rate over the last 20 years holds," Semler noted, "it means [the] military industry will get about $407 billion from Biden's first military budget—$16 billion more than the $391 billion those $1,400 stimulus checks cost the government earlier this year."

The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2022 was passed with broad bipartisan support earlier this month in the House, where the margin was 363-70, and in the Senate, where the vote was 88-11. By signing the bill into law on Monday, Biden approved a record-high $778 billion military budget.

"Military spending involves a massive redistribution of wealth from the public to private sector."

Even though U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan in August, Republicans and Democrats awash in weapons industry cash refused to support popular amendments to reduce Pentagon spending. 

In fact, lawmakers in the House and the Senate added $25 billion—which happens to be the amount of funding that progressive advocacy group Public Citizen says is necessary to ramp up vaccine manufacturing to inoculate the world against Covid-19—on top of the already gargantuan $753 billion military budget requested by Biden back in May.

Semler's calculations are based on the Pentagon's $740 billion "base" budget—that is, the money allocated strictly to the Defense Department and not the additional $38 billion worth of "nuclear funding from the Energy Department or funding from elsewhere, even though that stuff is rightly considered military spending, too," he pointed out.

"Military spending involves a massive redistribution of wealth from the public to private sector," wrote Semler. "There are over 700 lobbyists representing for-profit military contractors in D.C., and this redistribution of wealth is why they're there."

In a Jacobin essay published Thursday, Semler argued that Biden is doubling down on the "New Cold War" framework embraced by former President Donald Trump, whose administration claimed that the best way for the U.S. to prevent an armed confrontation with China and Russia "is to be prepared to win one."

According to Semler:

The difference between Trump's arms race and Biden's was supposed to be that the latter would bring a commensurate rise in social outlays. Biden campaigned on spending $7 trillion over a decade—or $700 billion per year, on average—for civil infrastructure, transportation, climate, healthcare, education, and other social programs.

Once in office, Biden's plan was to beat the drum on China, triggering a rally 'round the flag effect that would convince Congress—conservatives included—to budget for both military and economic competition. As a Democratic congressional aide told Vox in the first months of the Biden presidency, "[t]he best way to enact a progressive agenda is to use China [as a] threat."

"The Biden administration has done its best to put that theory into action," Semler argued. "But Biden's Cold Warrior experiment has failed."

"While military spending is shooting up as expected—Biden's budget allocates nearly $40 billion more than the Trump administration, $170 billion more than Obama's last budget, and 5% more than he campaigned on—less than 8% of the funding Biden sought for his domestic agenda has come through," he continued.

"Adjusted on a per-year average," Semler added, "Biden has only delivered $55 billion of the $700 billion he promised for human and physical infrastructure for fiscal year 2022."


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