With several budget-related votes in Congress coming up this week, progressive lawmakers are aiming to cut down proposed additions to defense spending and pare down the Pentagon’s ever-increasing budget.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) is offering an amendment that would reduce defense spending by about $24 billion. Over a dozen moderate Democrats in the House had joined Republicans in voting to add $24 billion to the Pentagon’s already bloated budget — bringing it up to about $778 billion.
Lee’s amendment, backed by Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), would undo the addition. If passed, the amendment would bring the Pentagon’s budget back down to what President Joe Biden had proposed in the spring.
On Twitter, Lee emphasized that the money slated to be given to the Pentagon could go toward funding social programs instead. She aims to “cut defense spending by at least $25 billion to reinvest in the needs of the people,” she wrote. “Let’s get this done.”
Pocan is also offering an amendment that would reduce defense spending by 10 percent overall, excluding funding for health care and personnel. He argues that the Pentagon’s spending isn’t justified, especially as the country faces multiple domestic crises.
“Pouring billions more into the Pentagon’s budget won’t tackle real and present dangers to our national security like COVID and climate change,” Pocan wrote on Twitter. “Why not cut just 10 percent of this bloated budget and reinvest in fighting our greatest threats?”
In a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith last month, Pocan urged him to shoot down amendments that would add to Biden’s original defense budget proposal, questioning the need to increase defense spending just as the U.S. is exiting one of the nation’s most expensive wars.
“At a time when the United States is withdrawing from wars abroad, we should be committed to cutting our defense spending now more than ever,” Pocan said.
Progressives have waged a similar effort to cut Pentagon spending before. In 2020, Pocan, Lee and Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) campaigned to reduce Pentagon spending by 10 percent, but the effort was shot down. However, with moderate Democrats and Republicans standing firmly against spending cuts, it’s unlikely that Lee and Pocan’s proposals will end up impacting the final budget.
Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has spent over $14 trillion — nearly twice the spending rate as the Democrats’ Build Back Better bill would cost over the next decade. Between one third and one half of that towering defense figure has been given to private contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon, who in turn spend millions lobbying Congress to influence defense spending.
Sanders panned defense contractors and the Department of Defense earlier this year, accusing the Pentagon of waste, cost overruns and fraud. He also pointed out that the Pentagon is the only agency that has never passed an independent audit of its finances — despite being trusted with nearly half of the U.S.’s discretionary spending.
The Pentagon currently spends about $740 billion a year, a massive amount of money that The Nation points out works out to be about $1 million a minute.