The Pentagon doesn’t need $886bn. I oppose this bloated defense budget

By Bernie Sanders; The Guardian

As a nation, the time is long overdue for fundamental changes to our national priorities.

The US Senate is now debating an $886bn defense authorization bill. Unless there are major changes to the bill, I intend to vote against it. Here’s why.

As everyone knows, our country faces enormous crises.

As a result of climate change our planet is experiencing unprecedented and rising temperatures. Along with the rest of the world, we need to make major investments to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into more efficient and sustainable energy sources, or the life we leave our kids and future generations will become increasingly unhealthy and precarious.

Our healthcare system is broken. While the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry make hundreds of billions in profit, 85 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, our life expectancy is declining, and we have a massive shortage of doctors, nurses, mental health practitioners and dentists.

Our educational system is teetering. While we have one of the highest rates of childhood poverty of almost any major country, millions of parents cannot find affordable and quality childcare. The number of our young people who graduate from college is falling behind many other countries and 45 million Americans are struggling under the weight of student debt.

Our housing stock is totally inadequate. While gentrification is causing rents to soar in many parts of our country some 600,000 Americans are homeless, and 18 million are spending more than half of their limited incomes on housing.

These are some of the crises our country faces. And we’re not dealing with them.

And then there is defense spending. Well, that’s a whole other story. The proposed military budget that the Senate is now debating would increase defense spending by $28bn to over $886bn, an all-time record. The total is over $900bn if you include nuclear weapons spending through the Department of Energy.

I will oppose this bloated defense budget and efforts to further increase military spending through a defense supplemental for three main reasons.

First, more military spending is unnecessary. The $886bn in defense spending agreed in the debt ceiling deal matches the Pentagon’s budget request and is more than sufficient to protect the United States and our allies. The United States spends more than three times what China spends on its military. This record high defense spending would come in spite of the end of the war in Afghanistan and despite the fact that the United States spends more on the military than the next 10 countries combined, most of whom are allies.

Second, the Pentagon cannot keep track of the dollars it already has, leading to massive waste, fraud and abuse in the sprawling military-industrial complex. The Pentagon accounts for about two-thirds of all federal contracting activity, obligating more money every year than all civilian federal agencies combined. Yet the Department of Defense (DOD) remains the only major federal agency that cannot pass an independent audit. Last year, the department was unable to account for over half of its assets, which are in excess of $3.1tn. The Government Accountability Office (Gao) reports that DOD still cannot accurately track its finances or post transactions to the correct accounts. Each year, auditors find billions of dollars in the Pentagon’s proverbial couch cushions; in fiscal year 2022, navy auditors found $4.4bn in untracked inventory, while the air force identified $5.2bn worth of variances in its general ledger. A serious effort to address this waste should be undertaken before Congress throws more money at the Pentagon.

Third, much of this additional military spending will go to line the pockets of hugely profitable defense contractors – it is corporate welfare by a different name. 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. Repeated investigations by the DOD inspector general, the GAO and CBS News have uncovered numerous instances of contractors massively overcharging DOD, helping boost these companies’ profits to nearly 40% – and sometimes as high as 4,451% – while costing US taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. TransDigm, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon are among the offenders, dramatically overcharging the taxpayer while reaping enormous profits, seeing their stock prices soar and handing out massive executive compensation packages. Last year, Lockheed Martin received $46bn in unclassified federal contracts, returned $11bn to shareholders through dividends and stock buybacks, and paid its CEO $25m a year. TransDigm, the company behind the 4,451% markup, touted $3.1bn in profits on $5.4bn of net sales, almost boasting to investors about just how fully it was fleecing the taxpayer. 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.

Let’s be clear. Defending the American people is not only about pouring money into the Pentagon. It’s about making sure our children go to good schools and will have a habitable planet when they get older. It’s about making sure that every American has a decent standard of living and can enjoy quality healthcare and affordable housing.

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