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Congress Urged to Reject Biden’s Pentagon Budget Increase

Analysts and antiwar critics say any increase in the Defense Department’s bloated budget would be unacceptable.

President Joe Biden speaks as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Vice President Kamala Harris accompany him at the Pentagon, February 10, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

President Joe Biden on Friday is reportedly expected to request a $715 billion budget for the Pentagon for fiscal year 2022, a slight increase from the previous year and a far cry from the substantial reduction that progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups are demanding.

Politico reported late Thursday that the Pentagon budget topline the president is set to propose represents “a roughly 1.5% increase in defense spending from the current year’s [$704 billion] level, making it effectively an inflation-adjusted budget boost.” The $715 billion would be for the Pentagon only, not including military-related spending for other agencies such as the Energy Department, which maintains the country’s nuclear weapons.

While Biden’s expected Pentagon request is lower than the $722 billion projected for FY2022 by the Trump administration in its final budget blueprint, analysts and anti-war critics said any increase in the Defense Department’s bloated budget would be unacceptable.

“Following a year of deadly proof that throwing money at the Pentagon does not keep us safe from modern-day threats, it is unconscionable to not only extend Trump’s spending spree, but to add to it,” Erica Fein, advocacy director of Win Without War, said in a statement. “We urge Congress to reject the topline Pentagon funding proposal and cut back Pentagon spending to at least the Obama-Biden levels.”

“While we’re repeatedly asked how we will afford to address these truly existential threats, the same question is never asked of adding to the Pentagon’s already-overstuffed coffers,” Fein continued. “Let’s be clear: continuing to funnel near-limitless resources into the pockets of arms manufacturers while underfunding public goods only undermines the safety of people in the United States and around the world.”

William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy, said late Thursday that “the Biden administration’s decision to increase the Pentagon budget from near-record levels is both misguided and disappointing.”

“At a time when over half a million Americans have died in a pandemic, climate change continues to have catastrophic impacts, and there is an urgent need to address racial and economic inequality, it is apparent that the greatest challenges to our lives and livelihoods are not military in nature,” added Hartung. “The Pentagon budget should reflect these realities.”

White House budget proposals are effectively messaging documents that outline the administration’s spending priorities, so the topline Pentagon figure could change significantly as Congress negotiates spending levels for the next fiscal year.

As hawkish Republican lawmakers clamor for an even larger Pentagon budget increase, dozens of progressive members of Congress have pressured Biden in recent weeks to slash Defense Department outlays.

“Hundreds of billions of dollars now directed to the military would have greater return if invested in diplomacy, humanitarian aid, global public health, sustainability initiatives, and basic research,” a group of 50 House Democrats led by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) wrote in a letter to Biden last month.

In a separate letter to congressional committees on March 24, a coalition of advocacy groups argued that at least $80 billion can easily be slashed from the FY2022 Pentagon budget by canceling additional purchases of F-35 fighter jets and Trump’s Space Force, among other costly boondoggles.

“The Pentagon budget — which jumped more than $130 billion during the Trump presidency — is replete with spending on overpriced weapons that don’t work, rip-off deals for private contractors, gigantic investments in pointless or outdated weapons systems, and waste and mismanagement so severe the agency cannot pass an audit,” Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement Thursday. “It is, indeed, a tribute to the power of the military-industrial complex.”

“There are hundreds of billions of dollars to be saved by appropriate cuts to the Pentagon budget,” Weissman added. “What is most important for the FY22 budget is that it be smaller than FY21, in order to signal that we are finally moving in the right direction and shifting resources from the Pentagon to investments in people.”

Lindsay Koshgarian, program director for the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, warned that an increase in the Pentagon budget “will only feed contractor greed and increase the likelihood of more military conflicts in more places.”

“There is no shortage of options for how to rein in the Pentagon’s excesses,” said Koshgarian. “Profitable weapons systems and costly service contracts account for more than half of the Pentagon budget, and the nation’s longest war continues to drain national coffers.”

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