Rep. Jared Golden is seen during a House Armed Services Committee hearing

Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) is seen during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on March 6, 2019.

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Corporate Democrats Go to Bat for Bloated Pentagon Budget

"We should not assume that there is no room to trim the Pentagon budget," said one expert. "Doing it correctly would not only make us safer, it would free up funds to address other urgent national priorities."

A group of corporate Democrats led by Rep. Jared Golden of Maine sent a letter Wednesday defending the out-of-control U.S. military budget and expressing concerns about looming attempts by House Republicans to cut it, even as several GOP lawmakers insisted the Pentagon would be safe from their coming austerity spree.

In their letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Golden, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), and other members of the right-wing Blue Dog Coalition celebrated the bipartisan vote last month to add $45 billion to the latest military budget proposed by President Joe Biden, claiming the extra money is necessary for "the procurement of additional naval ships at a time in which China has developed the world's largest navy" and for "strengthening the defense industrial base."

But the lawmakers voiced alarm over the House GOP majority's expressed support for capping federal outlays across the board at Fiscal Year 2022 levels—a move that would, in theory, cut tens of billions off the military budget in addition to slashing spending on education, healthcare, and other key areas.

The 12 Democratic signatories of the new letter focused their attention solely on the supposed national security implications of a spending cap, declaring "such a drastic cut in defense spending would not only undo this bipartisan consensus in support of our national defense, but would also endanger our long-term national security by injecting substantial uncertainty into the long-term defense budgetary planning necessary to ensure timely investments in personnel, procurement, readiness, and research and development."

The White House, too, weighed in on the side of maintaining the current military budget this week, calling any push for cuts "senseless and out of line with our national security needs."

But analysts have argued in recent days that such reflexive defenses of U.S. military spending don't stand up to scrutiny.

Far from a "drastic cut," $75 billion is less than 10% of the current military budget, which stands at $858 billion—much of which is likely to wind up in the coffers of defense contractors.

Progressive lawmakers, led by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), argued last year that $100 billion could and should be cut from the Pentagon budget—which has long been rife with waste, abuse, and profitable giveaways to private industry—and redirected toward pressing needs, from healthcare to poverty reduction to climate programs.

Their proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act was voted down in July by an overwhelming bipartisan margin.

William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote in a blog post Tuesday that "the idea that dictators worldwide are basing their decisions on whether the Pentagon budget is an enormous $750 billion or an obscenely enormous $850-plus billion is ludicrous."

Hartung acknowledged that the kinds of across-the-board cuts floated by House Republicans "are never the best way to reduce government spending" because "they mean cutting effective and wasteful programs in the same proportions instead of making smart choices about what works and what doesn't."

"By all means we should debate how the federal budget should be crafted at this chaotic political moment," Hartung added. "But we should not assume that there is no room to trim the Pentagon budget. Doing it correctly would not only make us safer, it would free up funds to address other urgent national priorities."

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