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Budget Deal Ensures Bombs Will Keep Dropping While Fewer Human Needs Are Met

All of that military funding comes at the direct cost of funding social programs and climate programs.

The U.S. Capitol Building is seen on January 10, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

Every year, Democrats in Congress use an implicit threat to keep fiscal extremists in the Republican Party from gutting the safety net: cuts to the military budget. And every year, they back off that threat. The resolution, every time, is a growing military budget.

This year, congressional leadership in the House and Senate have negotiated a budget with domestic spending — everything from public education and public health, to housing and environmental protections — frozen at almost last year’s level. Accounting for inflation, that amounts to a cut in domestic spending. In exchange for this pittance, the Democratic Party accepts a military spending increase that puts the country on track for the highest military budget since World War II.

In practice, a budget that freezes domestic spending while increasing military spending risks the lives of both people in the United States and those who fall victim to U.S. militarism abroad.

The Military Budget Underwrites War — and Genocide

The deal includes $886 billion for the military, but that will most likely grow. War funding for the current year wasn’t included in the current deal, but President Joe Biden has requested $106 billion, of which $65 billion is for military purposes (the rest is humanitarian and economic aid and some border funds). If that package passes, the resulting military and war budget would be $965 billion — the highest military budget since WWII.

Legislators haven’t yet managed to come to agreement on the finer points of the budget deal. But the topline for military spending matches the amount set in the military policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that both houses recently passed and President Biden signed; so it’s a good bet that the details will end up matching as well. The yet-to-pass war supplemental includes military funds for Ukraine ($46 billion) and support for Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestinians ($14 billion), of course. But the basic budget does, too.

The $886 billion budget as outlined in the NDAA underscores the policy of full support for the Israeli government’s military policies, both in its deadly assault on Gaza and, alarmingly, in preparation for a possible broader regional war. The law provides for training for Israeli military forces on the KC-46 tanker, which isn’t so important for attacking Gaza but becomes important for Israel in the case of military conflict with Iran. It authorizes “cooperation” with Israel to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — a goal that was much better served by the Iran nuclear deal, a casualty of former President Donald Trump’s foreign policy that the Biden administration tried and failed to revive. It also reauthorizes cooperation with Israel on “anti-tunneling technologies,” extending a program that directly supports the Israeli invasion of Gaza and doubles down on complicity in Israel’s war crimes there.

The Israeli government’s unfolding genocide in Gaza is not the only cost, of course. Even without supplemental war funding, the current bill underwrites the war in Ukraine and bolsters the U.S. commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that made war more likely, with little recognition that, as has always been the case, negotiation is the only path to ending the war. And even with all of those commitments, the biggest expense is likely the commitment to “countering” China in the form of a boost to the Pentagon’s anti-China “Pacific Deterrence Initiative” above what the Pentagon even requested, initiatives to sell arms and provide training to Taiwan’s military in expectation of a conflict with China, and more — a commitment shared by the military elite that could eventually lead us to war.

The Losers: All of Us

All of that military funding comes at the direct cost of funding social programs and climate programs. The losers in this deal are clear: anyone unlucky enough to live in a war zone, anyone unlucky enough to need help in the U.S. economy, and anyone unlucky enough to be directly affected by the climate emergency (in other words, all of us).

The deal left no room for new climate initiatives, no matter how badly needed. In fact, it follows the spending limits set last year by the debt-ceiling deal that also gave a green light to the destructive Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The deal also falls short of what’s needed to support access to basic necessities like food and shelter. Advocates warn that the Senate-proposed increases to the Women, Infants and Children food program are inadequate, and even those are not guaranteed to get support in the House.

Likewise, rental housing programs will fall far short of the need at a time when housing is both expensive and hard to find. The level of funding provided in the Senate version of the budget deal would mean 80,000 fewer families receiving rental housing vouchers compared to last year. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it would cost $900 million to close the gap on rental housing vouchers — that’s just 1 percent of the $886 billion military budget. Of course, the House version falls even farther from meeting the need, and the two sides must still come to an agreement.

The only real winners in this budget deal are Pentagon contractors. Each year, they take roughly half of the Pentagon budget — likely to be upward of $400 billion this year. For the record, in 2023, that would have been enough to subsidize more than 40 million public housing units, 32 million children in the Head Start early childhood education program, or 10 million degrees from a public university.

Flipping the Script

The clear answer to this is a budget that flips the script, providing more for human needs, climate, and diplomacy while providing less for war and militarism. The path to get there is fraught, but there are signs of hope.

One sign is in the popular uprising that continues day after day in opposition to U.S. support for Israel’s genocidal killing of Palestinians. The mass resistance to U.S. complicity has widespread international support, with repeated votes for ceasefire at the United Nations and an imminent hearing at the International Court of Justice on Israel’s violation of the UN Convention on Genocide. U.S. complicity in the genocide in Gaza clarifies the real purpose and potential of U.S. militarism like few things can. Movement and pressure to end the genocide of Palestinians could ultimately build to dismantle U.S. military hegemony.

Another sign is the loss of patience among some members of Congress for Pentagon excess. From voting against the NDAA, to speaking out to stop price-gouging by military contractors, to proactive efforts to cut the Pentagon budget, members of Congress including Representatives Barbara Lee, Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal, and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, among others are chipping away at what has been unquestioned bipartisan support for higher military spending.

Over time, these efforts by grassroots activists and progressive members of Congress can add up to a budget that finally prioritizes both domestic and international lives over militarism and the profit-seeking of military contractors.

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