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Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby appears at a briefing

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby appears at a briefing on January 28, 2021. (Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The House Military Spending Bill Is a Massive Giveaway to the Weapons Industry

Lawmakers added $37 billion beyond what the Pentagon asked for, most of it going to defense contractors.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy goals and recommends a number for total Pentagon spending. The final version of the bill will be determined later this year.

The House bill would set spending for the Pentagon and related activities like work on nuclear warheads at the Department of Energy at an astonishing $850 billion, $37 billion more than the Pentagon even asked for in its FY2023 budget request. The vast bulk of the added funds will go to pad the bottom lines of contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics.

"The House doubled down on the latest installment of the Pentagon’s three-decades-long, $2 trillion nuclear weapons buildup."

Of the $37 billion in add-ons to the Pentagon’s proposal, over two-thirds — or $25 billion — will go to weapons procurement and research and development, categories of funding that mostly go to contractors. By contrast, the increase for military personnel and health was just $1 billion, an indication that corporate profits continue to come before the needs of the troops.

Many of the additions to the Pentagon budget had more to do with parochial politics than they did with any coherent defense strategy. Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), who co-sponsored the amendment that added the $37 billion when the bill was under consideration by the House Armed Services Committee, made sure to include an extra Arleigh Burke class destroyer, a $2 billion ship built in Bath, Maine under the auspices of General Dynamics. Golden’s co-sponsor for the add-on was Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), whose district abuts the Huntington Ingalls corporation’s Newport News Shipbuilding subsidiary, which builds aircraft carriers and attack submarines, and will benefit from the $4 billion in added funds for shipbuilding included in the House bill.

The bill also added three Lockheed Martin F-35s and eight Boeing F-18s, while preventing the Air Force from retiring 12 Boeing F-15s. One of the most egregious moves by the House was its decision to block the administration from scrapping five of the nine Littoral Combat Ships it had hoped to eliminate. The LCS is a ship without a mission, unable to survive a concerted attack and rife with performance problems, including an inability to track enemy submarines. An amendment by House Armed Services Committee chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) that sought to sustain the administration’s decision to retire the LCS’s failed by a vote of 208 to 221. The drive to retire the LCS was supported by a coalition of fiscally conservative organizations led by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

On the nuclear front, the House doubled down on the latest installment of the Pentagon’s three-decades-long, $2 trillion nuclear weapons buildup. To make matters worse, the House bill also included funding for a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile, a dangerous and destabilizing system that the Biden administration had hoped to cancel.

An amendment by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) to block the $37 billion add-on garnered 151 votes, including a large majority of the Democratic caucus, a sign that the days of endless increases in Pentagon spending may be numbered. Robert Weissman of Public Citizen gave a useful perspective on efforts to roll back the Pentagon budget.

“We are racing toward a trillion-dollar military budget that tolerates and encourages mind-blowing waste, rewards military-industrial complex political spending with unfathomably large contracts — and fails to address priority national security needs,” Weissman said. “The good news is: the American people are on to the racket and mobilizing to demand a reallocation of funding away from the Pentagon and to prioritize human needs.” 

© 2021 Responsible Statecraft
William Hartung

William Hartung

William D. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, and the author most recently of “Pathways to Pentagon Spending Reductions: Removing the Obstacles.”

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