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Demonstrators hold a banner protesting U.S. military spending

Demonstrators hold a banner at a protest in Manhattan on April 15, 2021. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

'$839 Billion Military Budget Is a Policy Failure,' Say Critics as House Tees Up NDAA

"More guns and tanks are of no use to Americans without housing, education, or healthcare," said Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee.

Jake Johnson

With the U.S. House set to vote this week on legislation that proposes a staggering $839 billion in military spending, progressive lawmakers and advocates said Monday that the bill exemplifies the warped priorities of Congress at a time of growing hunger, rising child poverty, an ongoing pandemic, and other pressing crises.

"Until they can pass an audit, it's time to stop handing the Pentagon a blank check."

"I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it until our federal budget is equitably distributed: more guns and tanks are of no use to Americans without housing, education, or healthcare," declared Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who alongside Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) has put forth an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would slash the U.S. military budget by $100 billion.

Pocan, co-chair of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus, wrote on Twitter Monday that "an $839 billion defense budget is a policy failure." Under the House version of the NDAA, the Pentagon alone would receive $808 billion for Fiscal Year 2023.

"Until they can pass an audit," Pocan argued "it's time to stop handing the Pentagon a blank check."

The legislation that the House is expected to debate and vote on this week contains $37 billion more in military spending than President Joe Biden's initial budget request, which totaled $813 billion—$802 billion of which was in the purview of the NDAA.

On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee is expected to determine which of the roughly 1,200 amendments that lawmakers are seeking to attach to the NDAA will receive a full House vote. Both Democrats and Republicans have proposed a wide array of amendments, from a proposal to suspend U.S. aid to the Brazilian military if it attempts a coup to a measure that would reform the draconian Espionage Act.

Passage of the NDAA, which typically clears both chambers of Congress on a bipartisan basis with relatively little issue, would be a major victory for weapons contractors that have lobbied aggressively for more spending. The Senate's version of the NDAA proposes even more military spending than the House's.

"Even $100 billion is actually a modest cut when it comes to the Pentagon."

"An $839 billion military budget is a policy failure for the people and the planet," tweeted the peace group CodePink. "If the U.S. government was truly interested in defending U.S. health and safety, it would allocate Pentagon spending toward climate action, healthcare, and other life-affirming services—not war."

Like every other NDAA that Congress has approved in recent years, the version for the coming fiscal year is chock-full of wasteful programs that can hardly be justified on national security grounds.

In an open letter Tuesday, an ideologically diverse coalition of watchdog groups warned that the House bill could dump even more money into a $6 billion program to produce new engines for the F-35 fighter jet—itself a notorious boondoggle.

As Connor Echols of Responsible Statecraft reports, the House NDAA "sets aside $503 million for the new 'Adaptive Engine Transition Program,' which would replace engines for most F-35s with a design that had previously been rejected."

The coalition of watchdog groups wrote in their open letter Tuesday that "over the service life of the fleet, the F-35 program is projected to cost the American people $1.7 trillion."

"This is roughly $5,000 for every man, woman, and child in the nation," the groups pointed out.

More broadly, Lindsay Koshgarian of the National Priorities Project observed last week that slashing $100 billion from the U.S. military budget could fund a range of progressive priorities, including "the clean energy and child care provisions of President Biden's beleaguered Build Back Better initiative."

Merely reversing the House's proposal to pile $37 billion on top of Biden's request, meanwhile, could help pay for "provisions for extending child and earned income tax credits, and provisions for improved healthcare access, and Medicare hearing benefits for seniors," Koshgarian noted.

"Even $100 billion is actually a modest cut when it comes to the Pentagon," she argued. "We could cut much more and end up even safer. But when that $37 billion or $100 billion can do so much good elsewhere, it's unacceptable to put it in the Pentagon."

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