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Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez Vote Against Record $886 Billion for Military Spending

The U.S. is hurtling toward a trillion-dollar-a-year military budget, progressive advocates warned.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends a House Oversight Subcommittee on Health Care and Financial Services hearing on Capitol Hill on December 5, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

The House passed this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Thursday, with only a few dozen Democrats and progressives voting against the package that authorizes a record-setting $886 billion in military spending for 2024 and the extension of a mass surveillance measure that has raised alarm over the trampling of civil liberties in the U.S.

The bill passed 310 to 118, with 45 Democrats voting “no,” including prominent progressive members like Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), Barbara Lee (D-California) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). It passed the Senate on Wednesday with only eight “no” votes from the Democratic caucus, including Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

“If we can spend $886B on the Pentagon, we can invest in anti-poverty programs. If we can spend $886B on the Pentagon, we can invest in a Green New Deal. If we can spend $886B on the Pentagon, we can invest in Medicare for All,” said Lee on social media after the vote.

The NDAA now goes to President Joe Biden to sign. Progressive groups condemned the bill, saying that it is a glaring show of Congress’s priorities.

“The U.S. is flying towards a record-breaking trillion dollar budget for warfighting and defense contractors — all while Congress delays critical funding decisions and plans steep cuts to every other agency,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman in a statement on Thursday. “Even though the Pentagon just failed its sixth audit this month, it is the only department that is unfailingly rewarded with billions upon billions more every year…. An $886 billion Pentagon budget should embarrass us all.”

The record-setting blank check for militarization would be reason enough for progressives to vote “no” on the legislation. But congressional leaders also included a four-month extension of a provision that allows the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to surveil foreigners’ and Americans’ communications, including texts, emails and calls, without a warrant.

Government watchdogs and advocates have warned that the legislation would actually effectively extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for 16 months — authorizing a measure that has routinely been used to probe communications of American activists, journalists and other private citizens, despite Section 702 having been originally authorized to supposedly monitor foreign terrorism threats. The FBI has conducted millions of these “backdoor” searches in recent years.

As co-director for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program Elizabeth Goitein pointed out on social media last week, federal officials plan to conduct 270,000 “backdoor” searches on Americans’ communications within the 16-month extension period, and over 5,000 of these searches would violate the rules of Section 702, as the government has done an estimated hundreds of thousands of times in the past.

The vote comes as lawmakers are calling for increased surveillance of pro-Palestine advocates and groups, with such figures being labeled as “terrorists” by Zionists and major U.S. institutions for holding protests demanding an end to Israel’s genocidal siege of Gaza.

The Senate voted 65 to 35 to keep the FISA extension in the NDAA on Wednesday, while House lawmakers, led by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), released legislation with the extension in it last week.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus had whipped votes against the vote, per the American Prospect, due in large part to the Section 702 extension.

“The FY24 NDAA authorizes an unacceptably high national defense spending topline of $886.3 billion — all at a time when the Pentagon has failed an independent audit for its sixth consecutive year,” caucus leaders wrote in a memo sent to members, according to the Prospect. It adds that “the NDAA contains a reauthorization of surveillance authorities routinely used against Americans in violation of the Constitutional right to privacy.”

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