Late at night on December 7, the House overwhelmingly passed the final version of the bloated Pentagon budget, piling on all kinds of expensive projects neither the Pentagon nor the White House had asked for. There were just 51 Democrats who voted against it, mostly pro-peace progressives like AOC (NY), Jamaal Bowman (NY), Andy Levin (MI), Pramila Jayapal (WA), Jamie Raskin (MD), Jan Shakowsky (IL), Rashida Tlaib (MI), Chuy García (IL), Mondaire Jones (NY), Cori Bish (MO), Jim McGovern (MA), Jerry Nadler (NY), Ilhan Omar (MN), Ayanna Pressley (MA)... It's hard to say which candidates running for Congress now would have voted against this awful bill.
We asked some of the 2022 House candidates how they would have voted on the NDAA, although I didn't connect with Erica Smith that day. Orange County progressive, Mike Ortega, for example, told me he stands "with the Democrats who voted against this Defense bill last night. While working families have been struggling to pay for student loans, rising cost of living, and lack of health care-- the government cannot simply continue feeding the war machine without accountability!" I'd like to think that all the Blue America-endorsed candidates would have joined the 51 Democrats who voted against it. Read this guest post by Erica Smith and come to your own conclusion about what she would have done-- and then consider contributing to her campaign by clicking here or on the 2022 congressional thermometer on the left.
-by Erica Smith
This week, President Biden signed into law a $768 billion defense budget. Another bipartisan, record-high budget, in a year that included the end of the war in Afghanistan, a global health pandemic that’s tested our health and economic systems to their limits, and gridlock on domestic spending in Washington DC. Meanwhile, a bill that would dramatically upgrade our climate change response, expand our healthcare system, and build more than 1 million affordable housing units, is left for dead in the Senate.
We are not involved in any major foreign wars, yet we spend $768 billion on war preparation. The Pentagon has failed four consecutive audits, yet we spend $768B on the Pentagon budget. The United States spends more money on defense than the next 11 countries combined, yet we spend another $768 billion on defense. Inflation has surged to its highest rate since 1982, yet we spend another $768 billion on the military. Democratic majority in both chambers... you get the idea.
If any year was the one to lower the Pentagon budget it would be this one, but it didn’t happen. Giving the Pentagon a raise has become non-negotiable in Washington DC. As long as this remains true, the kind of opportunities the federal government can offer working people are drastically limited. It’s time to ask how this level of Pentagon spending became the status quo. It’s time to ask who our sky-high defense budget actually defends.
We know who’s set to gain from this budget. Studies have shown that about half of US Pentagon spending goes to defense contractors. There are almost 500,000 full-time defense contractors working for the Defense Department (the DoD is the largest employee in the world). It’s a massive, bloated industry that just keeps expanding as the US Government passes these budgets without accountability. It doesn’t hurt that at least 47 members of Congress and their spouses hold millions of dollars worth of stock in the major defense contractors.
But the most important thing is lobbying. The defense industry has spent about $100 million dollars this year in political lobbying. According to OpenSecrets, they’ve spent $285 million in campaign contributions and $2.5 billion in lobbying in the past two decades. And every year they find hundreds of retiring Congresspeople, White House staffers, Pentagon staffers and hire them as lobbyists. Cutting the Pentagon budget is possible for Congress, it’s just not profitable.
I come from a military family. My father was in the Air Force for more than three decades, and as a young girl, I lived on military bases in Fort Bragg and the Philippines. I’m not anti-military, I’m anti-war-profiteering. For decades now, as defense executives and corrupt politicians have profited while brave young Americans have risked their lives in foreign wars without clear objectives or moral premises. It’s sickening. It’s anti-American. And it’s bad for the defense of the actual American people.
We need to ban all members of Congress and Department of Defense officials from owning or trading any stocks of a defense contractor company, from becoming lobbyists, and from working for Foreign governments. That’s the first step, to shut the revolving door and give politicians less opportunity to profit from the military-industrial complex.
But the second step is more important, we need to fundamentally re-evaluate what we mean by ‘Defense’. The biggest threats to the American people aren’t Russia and China, they’re poverty driven by extreme income inequality, natural disasters driven by climate change, addiction & sickness driven by a broken healthcare system. We should pursue economic justice and high quality healthcare for our veterans. We need to bring Defense back home. We should rebuild cities in the USA, not battle on other continents. Our bright engineers should research and build carbon-neutral energy systems, not warships.
The Department of Defense needs to start defending American citizens. I will lead that fight in Washington DC.