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Sanders Says He’s Voting Against NDAA: “The Pentagon Doesn’t Need $886B”

The cycle of defense contractors lobbying in order to obtain government contracts is “legalized bribery,” Sanders said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to the media outside of the White House on July 17, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

As the Senate prepares to vote on a record-breaking $886 billion budget for defense, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has announced his intention to vote against the bill, saying that it is “long overdue” for the U.S. to shift its priorities away from piling ever-increasing amounts of money on the Pentagon and defense contractors.

“The US Senate is now debating an $886 billion defense authorization bill. Unless there are major changes to the bill, I intend to vote against it,” Sanders wrote in a scathing op-ed published Monday in The Guardian, headlined “The Pentagon doesn’t need $886 billion.”

Earlier this month, the House passed this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which piles $28 billion on top of last year’s already record-high defense budget. The bill has been widely denounced by progressive advocates, who say that it is irresponsible to continue increasing the Pentagon’s already sky-high budget while the public safety net is shrinking and the country is facing multiple overlapping crises.

The senator highlights pressing issues that U.S. politicians aren’t working to fix: the worsening climate crisis, the “broken” health care system, the “teetering” education system, and growing housing shortages. While these problems are largely being ignored by the political elite, Congress and the White House have approved an endless flow of cash to the Pentagon, he said.

He went on to point out that the U.S. spends more on the military than the next 10 countries combined, despite the fact that the Pentagon has a track record of losing track of trillions of dollars; last year, when the Pentagon failed its annual audit yet again, officials found that the department couldn’t account for over 60 percent of its assets, which totalled $3.5 trillion at the time.

“The Pentagon cannot keep track of the dollars it already has, leading to massive waste, fraud and abuse in the sprawling military-industrial complex,” Sanders wrote. “A serious effort to address this waste should be undertaken before Congress throws more money at the Pentagon.”

Meanwhile, a huge amount of Pentagon funding is thrown at defense contractors each year — a practice that Sanders has denounced as “corporate welfare by a different name.” Indeed, former officials and the Department of Defense’s top inspector have found that private contractors gouge prices in order to reap billions in profits from the government. Those profits are then passed on to executives and shareholders.

“Almost half of the Pentagon budget goes to private contractors, some of whom are exploiting their monopoly positions and the trust granted them by the United States to line their pockets,” Sanders wrote in the op-ed. “The fact that a share of the profits from these lucrative contracts will flow back to the congressional backers of higher defense budgets in the form of campaign contributions — America’s unique system of legalized bribery — makes the whole situation even more unconscionable.”

“As a nation, the time is long overdue for fundamental changes to our national priorities. Cutting military spending is a good first step,” the senator concluded.

Sanders has made an annual tradition of voting against the yearly defense bill, last year calling for the government to fund Medicare for All instead. Last week, the senator filed amendments to the NDAA that would cut the budget by 10 percent, trimming it by $88.6 billion. The amendments would also require the Pentagon to return a portion of its budget if it continues to fail audits and to submit a report on defense contractor “fraud” to Congress.

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