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Democrats Introduce Bill to Return $100B From Pentagon Budget to the Public

The lawmakers pointed out that $100 billion is enough to power every U.S. household with solar energy.

Rep. Barbara Lee speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on December 8, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Representatives Barbara Lee (D-California) and Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would slash $100 billion from the Pentagon budget, as annual spending on defense hurtles toward $1 trillion.

The People Over Pentagon Act would conduct likely the largest single-year cut to the Pentagon budget and return the money to the public through funding for education, health care, and more; though $100 billion is a mere fraction of the defense budget, it could fund a huge variety of other priorities, the lawmakers said.

“Year after year, this country pours billions into our already-astronomical defense budget without stopping to question whether the additional funding is actually making us safer,” said Lee. “Cutting just $100 billion could do so much good: it could power every household in the US with solar energy; hire one million elementary school teachers amid a worsening teacher shortage; provide free tuition for 2 out of 3 public college students; or cover medical care for 7 million veterans.”

The defense budget for 2023, passed by Congress in December, is a towering $858 billion. This represents a record high — and it’s also $118 billion higher than the budget the year President Joe Biden took office, despite the fact that the country has since withdrawn from Afghanistan, the U.S.’s longest-ever war.

As the defense budget increases nearly every year, often by tens of billions of dollars at a time, anti-war and progressive advocates have warned that it could soon reach $1 trillion annually — an absurd milestone, especially as millions of adults and children live in poverty in the U.S. and Congress squabbles over comparatively tiny amounts of funding for programs that could materially improve Americans’ lives.

“More defense spending does not guarantee safety, but it does guarantee that the military-industrial complex will continue to get richer,” Pocan said. “We can no longer afford to put these corporate interests over the needs of the American people.”

Pocan and Lee have seemingly made a yearly tradition of introducing legislation to slash the Pentagon’s budget. But the proposals stand no chance of passing, with strong majorities of both Republicans and Democrats in favor of an endless flow of cash to the Pentagon and private defense contractors’ profits.

The amount of money wasted alone at the Pentagon is enough to fund entire agencies, as Public Citizen pointed out. In 2015, for instance, the Pentagon internally found that it wasted $125 billion on administrative problems over five years, but worked to suppress the report so that Congress wouldn’t use it to cut funding. To date, the Pentagon is the only agency that has never passed an independent audit, despite the fact that such audits have been required annually for over 30 years.

Meanwhile, the $45 billion above the Pentagon’s budget request that Congress nonchalantly piled onto its budget is more than the annual cost of expanding Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision, Public Citizen pointed out — a proposal carved out of 2022’s Build Back Better Act because of conservatives’ opposition to the cost.

“Virtually everywhere you look in the Pentagon budget, there’s waste and needless spending,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said in a statement. “The Pentagon’s F-35 jet is the department’s most expensive weapons system program and is expected to cost $1.7 trillion over its life — even though the aircraft does not yet operate correctly, the program is rife with delays and cost overruns, and the Government Accountability Office says a substantial number of the aircraft will be procured before they are proved to have reached an acceptable level of performance and reliability.”

“Is it asking too much for a trillion-dollar program to insist on ‘an acceptable level of performance and reliability’ before it throws billions of taxpayer money at Lockheed Martin?” Weissman continued. “The choice to spend so much on the military is equally a choice not to provide health care, invest in early education, address climate chaos, and more. The People Over Pentagon Act rejects the immoral and illogical inertia of more, more, more for the Pentagon.”

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