Why do we continue to spend billions of federal funds to expand an already bloated military? Aren’t there better things – like health care, housing and the environment – to spend this money on?
Congress doesn’t seem to think so. Despite a year of negotiations over President Joe Biden‘s “Build Back Better” spending plan, Republicans and Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., continue to criticize the package, citing its breadth and cost as key obstacles to their support.
But in early December, a bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate approved a $768 billion Pentagon spending bill. The cost was more than four times higher than projected in the Build Better Act. The fact that politicians can support such massive defense spending while opposing the Build Back Better Act over concerns about increasing the national debt is a ridiculous double standard, especially when Build Back Better is 100 percent paid for by new taxes and revenues and nothing added to the national debt.
The three-quarters of a trillion dollars the Pentagon spends, on the other hand, is partly paid for by larger deficits.
The Pentagon’s budget accounts for about 50% of the nation’s annual discretionary spending. That alone should draw scrutiny, but lawmakers have been trained to instead follow Manchin’s rhetorical lead — nickel and diming schemes that could actually meaningfully change Americans’ lives while continuing to support the sleeping giants of US militarism could grow.
A particularly egregious example of this took place on the national stage last year. In early 2021, global health experts estimated that a one-time US government investment of $25 billion in manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines could enable a scale-up significant enough to vaccinate the entire world within a year . But both the Biden administration and Congress have yet to consider funding such a plan — an investment that may have prevented the Omicron variant from ever existing.
Those seriously concerned, as Manchin claims, about the level of federal spending should capture the Pentagon surplus and channel it back into the kinds of programs included in the original Build Back Better package, like expanding Medicare coverage or providing a free community college for all Americans.
And we should be clear that this isn’t about national security, it’s about putting more money in the pockets of the defense contractors, which collect more than half of all Pentagon spending. There are currently no greater threats to national security than the pandemic and rapidly approaching catastrophic climate change. Yet neither pandemic nor climate spending benefit from the “whatever they want — and more” treatment of Pentagon spending.
As a bare minimum, we should demand an end to the massive waste in the Pentagon. That includes more than $100 billion in administrative waste, according to the Pentagon itself. Unfathomable sums of money are thrown on unnecessary and/or ineffective weapons like the F-35, and tens of billions are squandered on overpriced contractors to do work that should be done by government employees.
Cutting the Pentagon’s budget and reinvesting the savings in poverty reduction, climate justice, and public health programs would have economic and human fruits far and wide.
It’s time to end the hypocrisy of Pentagon spending and invest in what the United States really needs.
Robert Weissman is the President of Public Citizen. Savannah Wooten is a Pentagon spending cut advocate at Public Citizen. This column was produced for Progressive Perspectives, operated by The Progressive magazine and distributed by the Tribune News Service.
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