WASHINGTON, June 30 – Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spoke on the Senate floor to advocate for amendments he introduced to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would fundamentally overhaul the Pentagon budget, which exceeds $740 billion this year.
Military spending, now higher than the next 11 nations combined, represents more than half of all federal discretionary spending. The Pentagon budget has exploded under President Trump, increasing by more than $100 billion in annual spending compared to military budgets under President Obama. In his floor remarks, Sanders called for a 10% cut to the Pentagon budget to invest the savings in distressed communities; the production and distribution of free face masks to every American household; and an independent audit of the Defense Department.
“At a time when more Americans have died from the coronavirus than were killed fighting in World War I, when over 30 million Americans have lost their jobs in recent months, when tens of millions of Americans are in danger of being evicted from their homes, when education in America from childcare to graduate school is in desperate need of reform, when over half a million Americans are homeless, and when close to 100 million people are either uninsured or under-insured— now is the time to invest in our people,” Sanders said. “That means jobs, education, housing, healthcare, and clean air and water right here at home.”
“If the horrific pandemic we are now experiencing has taught us anything it is that national security means a lot more than building bombs, missiles, jet fighters, tanks, submarines, nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction,” Sanders added. “National security also means doing everything we can to improve the lives of our people, many of whom have been abandoned by our government decade after decade.”
Sanders introduced six amendments to the NDAA, which would:
- Cut 10% of annual Pentagon spending to invest in education, health care and poverty reduction in America’s most marginalized communities. The amendment, cosponsored by Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Representatives Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), would take $74 billion in annual savings from the Pentagon—exempting salaries and health care—to create a domestic federal grant program to fund health care, housing, childcare and educational opportunities for cities and towns experiencing a poverty rate of 25% or more. This amendment garnered the support of more than 60 national organizations fighting for economic, environmental, and racial justice, and peace.
- Require the federal government to manufacture and distribute high-quality face masks to every individual in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. In questioning by Sanders during today’s Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed support for the proposal. A new study found that nationwide use of face masks would not only fight the virus and save lives, but it would save the U.S. economy $1 trillion. At a time when the Trump administration has failed to respond to the dire coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 130,000 Americans, the amendment would require the president to utilize the Defense Production Act and all available authorities to manufacture and procure face masks and distribute masks via the Postal Service to every household in the country.
- Require the Defense Department to pass a clean audit by Fiscal Year 2025. Sanders was joined by Senators Grassley (R-Iowa), Wyden (D-Ore.), and Lee (R-Utah) on the measure, which would penalize Pentagon agencies that fail to pass an independent audit by returning a portion of their annual budgets to the Treasury. The Pentagon is the only federal department in America that hasn’t been able to pass an independent audit—30 years after Congress required it to do so.
- Prohibit funding for military aid and logistical support for unconstitutional and unauthorized U.S. military participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Senators Lee (R-Utah) and Murphy (D-Conn.) cosponsored the amendment. A bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate has already voted three times to halt all U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and in April 2019 a bipartisan, bicameral majority of Congress passed the first-ever War Powers Resolution in our American history to direct the withdrawal of unauthorized U.S. forces from a conflict. Sanders’ landmark legislation, was vetoed by Trump in 2019.
- Provide statutory authorization for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon programs, which are state grants provided by the Department of Defense for programs which help members of the Armed Forces and their families in preparation for deployment, during deployment and in reintegration post-deployment. These programs have helped thousands of service members, veterans and their family members cope with the challenges associated with deployments and military service.
- Implement a 0.1% cut to the Pentagon budget and transfer that funding to the State Department for cultural and educational exchange programs between the people of the United States and other countries. These important programs bring young people, students, scholars, and professionals from other countries to the U.S. to see our country, experience what life is like here, meet our people, and send our people to other countries to do the same. These programs promote greater cultural awareness, understanding and cooperation between different countries and emphasizes our common humanity, while decreasing conflict.
Read 60+ national advocacy groups’ endorsement letter here.