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Rep. Pramila Jayapal speaks at a press conference

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) speaks alongside fellow progressive lawmakers following a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House on October 19, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Progressive Caucus Says Pay-For Concerns 'Evaporate' When It Comes to Pentagon

Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders noted that "advocates are constantly called to answer for how we will afford spending on lowering costs and expanding access to healthcare."

Jake Johnson

The leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus voiced opposition to President Joe Biden's $813 billion military budget request on Monday and lamented that the question so often asked of critical social spending measures—"how will we pay for it?"—is never applied to soaring Pentagon outlays.

"The Pentagon remains unable to pass an audit, and its history of waste, fraud, and abuse continues to misuse taxpayer dollars."

"As Pentagon spending has exploded, the federal government has been forced to pinch pennies for decades when it comes to investments in working families," Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement.

"Appropriators and advocates are constantly called to answer for how we will afford spending on lowering costs and expanding access to healthcare, housing, child care services, on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, and on combating climate change—but such concerns evaporate when it comes to the Pentagon's endlessly growing, unaudited budget," the trio continued. "We will continue to vigorously advocate against this military spending proposal, as we have in years past."

Biden's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023 would hike U.S. military spending by $31 billion over current, already historically high levels, putting the country on track to spend more than $8 trillion on its military over the next decade. The White House unveiled its request days after a key federal health agency began shutting down a program that covered Covid-19 testing and treatment for uninsured Americans, citing inadequate funding.

As the National Priorities Project noted late Monday, Biden's proposed military budget increase alone is twice the roughly $15 billion in coronavirus relief money that Democratic congressional leaders yanked from a recent spending package due to disagreements over how to fund the aid. Republican lawmakers, questioning the need for any new Covid-19 money, wanted the funds repurposed from state programs, a non-starter for a number of Democrats.

Biden's budget request must ultimately be approved by Congress, which added $29 billion to the president's initial military spending proposal for the current fiscal year. Progressive amendments aiming to cut the Pentagon budget, or merely reduce it to the level Biden originally asked for, failed in the face of bipartisan opposition.

Republican lawmakers are already signaling that they will again attempt to pile more military funding on top of Biden's record-shattering $813 billion opening bid, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declaring that the president's request "falls woefully short on defense spending."

The White House published its budget blueprint as much of the president's legislative agenda remains stalled in the evenly divided Senate, with right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) opposing Biden's Build Back Better agenda over inflation and deficit concerns that economists and other critics have rejected as bogus.

Notably, Manchin has not raised similar concerns about the skyrocketing Pentagon budget, despite the Defense Department's penchant for squandering money or simply losing track of it. Over the past decade, Manchin has voted for every single proposed military budget, greenlighting close to $10 trillion in spending.

The House-passed version of the Build Back Better Act, by contrast, proposes spending $1.75 trillion over the next 10 years on renewable energy, child care, and other priorities.

In their statement late Monday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders warned that "nearly half" of the Fiscal Year 2023 Pentagon budget "is likely to go to private military contractors," citing a recent study estimating that up to $7 trillion of the $14 trillion the Pentagon has spent since 9/11 has gone to war profiteers.

"The Pentagon remains unable to pass an audit," Jayapal, Pocan, and Lee said, "and its history of waste, fraud, and abuse continues to misuse taxpayer dollars."

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