Progressive lawmakers balk at president's defense budget

Progressive lawmakers balk at president's defense budget

With legislation to reduce childhood poverty and advance renewable energy stalled in Congress, the Biden administration is expected to request more than $770 billion in Pentagon and related spending for the fiscal year beginning in October.

"This is absurd," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in response to the news. The expected budget request, first reported by Reuters Wednesday, is tens of billions of dollars more than former Republican President Donald Trump ever requested and contrasts with widespread public demand for increased investment in middle and lower-class Americans and an end to bloated military budgets.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) pointed to recent polling by the organization which showed that 54% of adults in the U.S. want "the exact opposite" of increased military spending.

"In the midst of a pandemic, the growing climate crisis, and ongoing issues nationwide, we need to invest in solutions instead of enriching defense contractors," said the AFSC.

According to Reuters, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been negotiating with the White House Office of Management and Budget, arriving at a proposed budget that far exceeds those requested by Trump.

Modernization of the United States' nuclear arsenal and development of weapons "to fight any potential future wars against China and Russia" have been identified by the administration as "must pay[s]," according to Reuters.

Shipbuilding, space defense capabilities, and spending on F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin are also priorities in the requested budget.

Congress is likely to build on the proposed spending package and arrive at a number that exceeds the one suggested by Austin and President Joe Biden, as lawmakers did after Trump proposed nearly $753 billion for the Pentagon, Reuters reported.

The proposal is expected to be officially announced by the White House as negotiations over the Build Back Better Act, the president's $1.75 trillion 10-year investment in anti-poverty measures and climate action, is still being debated by lawmakers.

That package was drastically reduced last year due to objections by right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to paid family and medical leave, an extension of the child tax credits that lifted millions of children out of poverty, and provisions to cut methane emissions and incentivize the use of renewable energy, before the senator ultimately announced he would not support what was left of the bill.

Calls to vaccinate the global population in order to keep new variants of Covid-19 from cropping up and reaching the U.S. have also been largely met with inaction on Capitol Hill. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has said the effort would cost a total of $50 billion.

"Devoting this enormous sum to the Pentagon at a time when the greatest challenges to our security—from pandemics to climate change—are not military in nature is both misguided and counterproductive," said William Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute.

Hartung noted that the proposal includes increased spending on modernizing the Pentagon's "nuclear triad"—nuclear armed bombers, land-based missiles, and ballistic missile submarines:

This buildup, which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates will cost $634 billion over the next ten years, is dangerous and unnecessary. The continuing commitment to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which former Secretary of Defense William Perry has called 'one of the most dangerous weapons in the world' because it could be launched on a false alarm and trigger an accidental nuclear war, is particularly troubling. Eliminating ICBMs would enhance our security. And a much smaller nuclear arsenal would be more than adequate to dissuade any nation from launching an attack on the United States.

"It's time to rethink U.S. military strategy to focus on the most urgent challenges we face and scale back capabilities for fighting unnecessary overseas wars and sustaining nuclear overkill," Hartung added. "The Pentagon budget should be substantially reduced in keeping with such an approach."

In addition to the AFSC's recent polling, Pew Research Center released a national survey Wednesday regarding the U.S. public's top priorities for 2022.

Strengthening the economy was by far the most common priority named by respondents, with 71% saying it was most important. Reducing healthcare costs followed at 61% and 60% of respondents said dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic was their highest priority.

Strengthening the military was named by just 37% of respondents and was a more popular response than only two others—dealing with global trade and dealing with drug addiction.

"It's time to stop pumping billions more each year into the bloated Pentagon budget," said Jayapal. "We can and must cut defense spending and invest in our communities, families, and climate."

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