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It’s Time to Cut the Bloated Pentagon Budget to Fund People, Not Military Contractors

Amendment by Sen. Sanders and Reps. Lee, Pocan Addresses Reality of Misplaced Spending Priorities Amid Coronavirus Crisis

What’s happening: As part of the annual must-pass military spending and policy bill (the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2021), progressive lawmakers have put forward a proposal to cut the massive $740 billion Pentagon budget by 10%. The amendment is being introduced by U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the U.S. Senate and U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has announced his endorsement of the proposal.

The Senate is expected to take up the amendment the week of July 20 and the House also is very likely to take up the measure.

The significance of this moment: For too long, on a bipartisan basis, Congress has allowed the Pentagon budget to rise dramatically without any meaningful pushback. It has been politically taboo to suggest any real reductions in the Pentagon’s coffers, and even some progressives have been hesitant. But now, the tide is turning. At the insistence of progressive lawmakers and with broad support, every member of Congress will be forced to vote up or down on the question of whether they support specific, targeted reductions in the bloated Pentagon budget.

This unprecedented opportunity comes at a time when calls to reallocate funding away from police to communities are growing louder and the coronavirus pandemic has revealed the ugly reality of our misplaced spending priorities. In May, twenty-nine members of Congress wrote a letter urging cuts to the Pentagon budget in order to fund “testing, tracing, and treatment… and immediate relief for the American people.” The moment demands bold action from Congress, with major long-term consequences. It is crucial that they seize this opportunity.

Please call on Congress to support this amendment and rein in the bloated Pentagon budget.

Support for putting people over the Pentagon: Polling shows that most Americans support reallocating money from the Pentagon to address human needs, an especially popular position among Democratic voters. Budget experts and advocates have put forward and gathered broad support for specific plans to cut $100 billion, $200 billion or even $350 billion from the annual Pentagon budget while increasing public programming and investing in meeting Americans’ daily needs. More than 60 national groups from multiple sectors recently signed on to a letter in support of the modest Sanders-Lee-Pocan proposal to cut 10% from the Pentagon budget and reinvest those funds in urgent human needs.

Why the Pentagon budget is so ripe for cutting: The Sanders-Lee-Pocan proposal exempts military personnel and the Defense Health Program from the cuts, so service members will not receive lower pay or lose their health care if the amendment passes. What’s on the table, then? Everything else. There’s no shortage of reasons why cutting the Pentagon is essential and common sense. Among them:

  • The Pentagon can’t even account for how it spends its money and is unable to pass an audit.An internal Pentagon study found almost a quarter of its budget is spent on overhead and bureaucracy, and identified $125 billion (over five years) in easily obtainable savings. Worried about attention on its financial mismanagement and possible cuts, the Pentagon buried the study.
  • S. military spending is vastly larger than all allies and rivals. In fact, U.S. Pentagon spending is more than the next nine top military spending countriescombined.
  • Excessive Pentagon spending fuels endless war that leaves us, and the world, less safe. The greatest international challenges create instability but are not amenable to military solutions. Poverty and wealth inequality, newly emergent diseases and, above all, the climate crisis demand diplomacy and major investments – but not in the military and war-fighting capacity. On the other hand, failure to address these challenges will certainly fuel more military conflict.
  • Private military contractors profit handsomely from our bloated Pentagon budget. Researchers from Brown University found that more than half of last year’s Pentagon budget went to expensive and non-competitive contractors. We can save more than $40 billion a year by ending reliance on unnecessary, expensive private contractors to do work that more affordable government employees should do and by eliminating wasteful contracting strategies that skyrocket costs in the final month of a fiscal year.
  • We can save $70 billion or more a year by eliminating a Pentagon slush fund, known as the “Overseas Contingency Operations account,” which is used for programs that have no connections to emergencies or contingencies.
  • There is a long list of extremely expensive weapons, like the F-35, that should be eliminated, cut back or replaced with more cost-effective alternatives.

What we could have instead: Even the modest 10% cut proposed by the Sanders-Lee-Pocan amendment could make a huge difference in the lives of ordinary people if reinvested in human needs. Here are just a few things we could do with that amount of money:

  • Double the budgets for the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health and have enough left over to end hunger in the United States.
  • End homelessnessin the United States, twice-over.
  • Provide more than 2 billion coronavirus tests.
  • Pay the salaries of more than 900,000 elementary school teachers.
  • Ensure medical care for more than 7 million veterans.

We urge you to call on Congress to support this amendment to cut the bloated Pentagon budget and instead deploy this money to support the American people.

Contact Mike Stankiewicz at mstankiewicz@citizen.org or at (202) 588-7779 to speak with an expert.