Right-wing Democrats who have spent the past several months griping about the cost of the Build Back Better Act—and lopping roughly $2 trillion off the bill’s top line—are facing growing pushback from progressive lawmakers and analysts as Congress gets ready to approve a military budget that’s far more expensive on an annual basis.
Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, estimated Monday that projected U.S military budgets over the next decade will cost roughly $8.31 trillion—double the combined price tag of the Biden administration’s big-ticket agenda items, which include the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure law, and the $1.75 trillion reconciliation package.
“Social spending bills—despite being more urgent/relevant for everyday security than military spending—will continue to bear the brunt of austerity politics,” Semler wrote in a blog post.
The Senate is currently debating a sweeping $778 billion military policy bill that would allocate $768 billion to the Pentagon in Fiscal Year 2022, significantly more than the current budget approved under former President Donald Trump.
After President Joe Biden requested a $753 billion military budget earlier this year, committees in the House and Senate—both narrowly controlled by Democrats—proceeded to tack on $25 billion more. Over a decade, that increase alone would amount to more spending than all of the healthcare provisions currently in the Build Back Better Act.
In total, as HuffPost‘s Akbar Shahid Ahmed reported last week, the annual Pentagon budget “approves more than four times as much spending as Biden’s Build Back Better Act.”
“The National Defense Authorization Act would approve $778 billion in spending in 2022, compared to the approximately $170 billion in spending that Biden’s social policy would entail next year,” Ahmed added. “Hawkish Democrats worked with Republicans to ensure that the defense bill would be $25 billion greater than Biden’s proposal for the military budget, and to quash progressive efforts to trim costs.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, tweeted Monday that “my colleagues seem to be so concerned with the deficit when it comes to addressing the needs of working people, but all of a sudden forget about the deficit when we’re talking about an annual defense budget of $778 billion.”
“What hypocrisy,” added the Vermont senator, who said he plans to vote against the NDAA.
Last week, in an effort to block the proposed $25 billion increase, Sanders and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced an amendment that would bring the proposed NDAA back down to what Biden requested in May.
“Let me be clear: this is not a radical idea, it is the military spending amount proposed by the president of the United States and the amount requested by the Department of Defense,” Sanders said in a floor speech. “I should also point out that this extraordinary level of military spending comes at a time when the Department of Defense is the only agency of our federal government that has not been able to pass an independent audit, and when defense contractors are making enormous profits while paying their CEOs exorbitant compensation packages.”
It’s unclear whether the Sanders-Markey amendment will have any more success than other recent efforts to reduce the latest U.S. military budget, which have been defeated by Republicans and Democrats bankrolled by the defense industry.
Many of the right-wing House Democrats who have held up the Build Back Better Act over purported concerns about its costs—including Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Stephanie Murphy of Florida—voted with Republicans in September to tank an amendment aimed at reversing the $25 billion add-on.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the major obstacles to the Build Back Better Act in the upper chamber, voted to advance the full $778 billion NDAA last week without once complaining about its price tag. Over the past decade, Manchin—a self-styled enemy of “fiscal insanity“—has voted in favor of over $9 trillion in military spending.
The Intercept‘s Jeremy Scahill wrote Sunday that “while there is much media focus these days on the intensely polarized dynamic on Capitol Hill between Democrats and Republicans, as well as domestic legislative battles among Democrats, none of this has stopped the work of the empire from moving forward.”
“Legislation aimed at increasing funding for social programs, education, and other public goods is consistently held hostage by politicians harping over the costs,” Scahill noted. “This has been the case with Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, which has seen some conservative Democrats join their Republican colleagues in gutting social spending in the name of fiscal responsibility.”
“The original BBB 10-year projection was $3.5 trillion and has been steadily chiseled down to half that size to appease critics,” he added. “Juxtapose this with the bipartisan ‘defense’ spending spree that has the U.S. on course to produce a Pentagon budget of more than $7 trillion over the next decade, and the priorities of this government’s political class come into sharp focus.”
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