While presenting an amendment for a 10 percent cut to the Pentagon’s colossal budget, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) sharply criticized the agency for wastefulness, saying that the billions spent on defense each year should be spent boosting social and climate programs instead.
“During a time when our country is withdrawing from foreign wars, when COVID-19 and its fallout is one of the greatest threats that we face, when record levels of unemployment, housing and healthcare crises are among us, the United States should be reducing its military spending by at least 10% and prioritize the very needs of our communities here at home,” said Ocasio-Cortez on the House floor on Wednesday.
She said that the cut, which would come out to about $77 billion, could come at no cost to the services that the U.S. offers military families, while still freeing up funds to address areas of dire need. The New York lawmaker offered the amendment on behalf of Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin).
Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that a large portion of the Department of Defense’s budget goes toward defense contractors. “It is not the readiness [of the country to respond militarily] that cutting our defense budget threatens. It is the profit margins of defense contractors,” she said, adding that defense contractors are continually “gouging the public and draining our resources,” while padding their own pockets.
Indeed, defense contractors receive a huge portion of the Pentagon’s budget — by some counts, more than half of the over $700 billion that is allocated to Defense each year. Many defense contractors are often paying settlements or appearing in court for fraud, and frequently giving their executives large bonuses, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) pointed out earlier this year.
It would be easy to discern which areas to cut the $77 billion from, Ocasio-Cortez explained — cutting spending on decades-old, obsolete weapons alone could recoup more than enough. The Pentagon could eliminate another $18 billion if it stopped its September practice of going on spending sprees to justify their budget directly before Congress authorizes it for the next year.
“We have increased our military spending year after year, senselessly and needlessly, and now again, during a time when we have ended an almost two decade war, there is no reason for us to be increasing our military spending and our defense budget when we are not funding childcare, healthcare, housing priorities, and the climate crisis here at home,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
She went on to say that authorizing the Pentagon’s bloated budget comes at the expense of the public.
“We ask Americans and people in this country, year after year, to engage in the magical thinking that defense spending comes at no real cost. It does. It comes at the cost of our security,” she said. “The degradation and erosion of our social systems here domestically is a threat as well. “
Ocasio-Cortez is offering another amendment with Pocan and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) that would cut about $24 billion of the Pentagon budget that was recently added on by conservative Democrats and Republicans in the House Armed Services Committee. Congress is slated to vote this week on defense budget authorization.
Progressives have long been critical of the U.S.’s bloated defense budget, which represents about half of the U.S.’s yearly discretionary spending. Much of the massive amount of defense spending goes unaccounted for — and the Defense Department is the only agency that has never passed an audit, despite the fact that agencies have been subject to audits for over 30 years.
The $770 billion with amendments and additions that Congress is slated to pass this year is an increase over previous years’ budgets. Progressives contend this budget is especially nonsensical when the U.S. has just exited one of its longest wars — and when just a fraction of the $14 trillion that the Pentagon has spent in the past 20 years could cover the entirety of Democratic priorities like the ones contained in the Build Back Better Act that conservative Democrats are fighting so fiercely to weaken or kill.