A Budget of $740B and Growing: How The DoD Budget Is Like A Schoolyard Bully

Three US Military planes in flight.
Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald acquired from United States Air Force (Website)

Mitch McConnell, you’re right. We the People need more help. We need a thoughtful, comprehensive coronavirus relief package, not Congress short-changing struggling Americans while giving billions upon billions to the Department of Defense.

As millions of Americans struggle to stand in the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, some politicians have been negligent to the detriment of their constituents. They have been ignoring the issue in the hopes that it’ll resolve itself while insulting the People by haggling for additions to the relief bill that reduce the People to pawns in a game no one agreed to play. The most recent bargaining chip proposed by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., was a provision that earmarked $29.4 billion of the $1 trillion relief package to pad the Department of Defense with new planes, missiles, helicopters, and other extravagances. Defense News reported a detailed (and jaw dropping) breakdown of the proposed additional spending for national security that would divide $8 billion between Boeing, Lockheed Martin Corp, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. Amongst some of the line notes are a billion to Boeing for patrol planes, wing replacements, and Ground-Based Midcourse Defense maintenance, a further several billion to Lockheed Martin Corp. for additional F-35As, C-130Js, and missiles for their Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, and a further couple billions to the Pentagon to fund the upkeep and procurement of medical, transport, and battleships, helicopters, and radar systems.

This affront on ethicality has not gone unnoticed. Critical words came from both sides of the aisle, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. On Monday, McConnell was quoted stating “The American people need more help. They need it to be comprehensive. And they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads.” This sudden focus on alleviating financial struggles doesn’t have legs. Despite this vocal concession that Americans need aid during the ongoing pandemic, Republicans are still gunning that the new relief bill slash current benefits by $400 per week and 70% unemployment benefits. Additionally, the controversial and problematic $3 trillion CARES Act passed in March that enabled multi-billion dollar corporations to soak up benefits intended for smaller businesses also allocated $10.5 billion to the Department of Defense, specifically to their contractors.

Therein lies a bigger issue.

The United States has a budget problem, and that problem’s name is the U.S. Department of Defense.

In the 2019 fiscal year, the U.S. spent $732 billion on the Department of Defense, or 15% of all federal spending. To put this in perspective, that’s $7 billion more than the defense budgets for China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the U.K., Japan, South Korea, and Brazil combined. The U.S.’s DoD funding in 2015 was 36% of total global arms spending while our GDP was only 24% of the world’s. The U.S. military isn’t just leading in spending, they also have 800 bases on foreign soil — way more than any other country. More than this, the DoD’s exorbitant budget single-handedly contributes more to environmental change than 100 countries combined. According to a research study by Lancaster University, “if the US military were a nation state, it would be the 47th largest emitter of [greenhouse gases] in the world, if only taking into account the emission from fuel usage”. To bring this back to the DoD’s budget, in the 2017 fiscal year the Air Force purchased $4.9 billion worth of fuel, the Navy $2.8 billion, and the Army and Marines together about $1.25 billion. The use of this oil to support battleships and aircrafts contributed heavily to the U.S. military’s daily release of 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide. In recent years, the U.S. military have been taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint and lessen their dependence on oil by implementing green energy initiatives with programs such as the Expeditionary Energy Office and the Net Zero Program. However, the DoD are missing the point.

It isn’t just their use of electricity over solar panels, or reliance on fossil fuels. It’s the U.S.’ ever persistent drive to be a, if not the, military powerhouse by adding to their fleet and continuing open-ended global operations.

The U.S.’s military budget is like a schoolyard bully — never satisfied and always looking for more. In February, the President proposed a budget of $740 billion for national security — a modest increase from last year. But, to military hawks, such as U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, and ret. U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, it isn’t enough. According to them, the national security budget should increase by 3–5% every year. If this recommendation is followed then the proposed 2021 budget would be nearer $800 billion. Budget analysts say, however, that if the current budget is properly managed then the costs of maintaining current operations wouldn’t need any additional funding. Since the current administration took office, the Pentagon has received $3 trillion, the annual budget for national security has increased by $100 billion, and in the next five years is expected to increase by at least another $60 billion.

This staggering, exponential rise is even more terrifying when we think about its intersection with the U.S.’ budget deficit and recent tax cuts. Between September 2019 and June 2020, the U.S.’ budget deficit grew from $16.8 trillion to $20.3 trillion. At the same time, tax cuts that were passed to stimulate the economy and promote spending among the ultra-rich top 0.01% by lowering their tax rate actually prompted a dangerous economic growth while significantly increasing the budget deficit. After these tax cuts had been in effect for two years, the Congressional Budget Office revised initial estimates. The new projections estimate that over the next decade expected revenue lost would reach $1.6 trillion — up nearly $600 million from early figures. Part of this miscalculation came from businesses and corporations paying much less than anticipated — corporate income taxes shrunk by $750 billion, instead of $350 billion.

This trend of lowering taxes for the rich, raising the DoD’s budget, and cutting funds for social programs sends a clear message to the People about the priorities of our government.

Earlier this year Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., wrote an essay for Politico in which he called for a 10% cut on defense spending. Even with this reallocation of $74 billion, the U.S. would still be the leader of global defense spending and, more importantly, the People would have more funding for social programs such as protecting voter rights in an unforeseen pandemic, or funding for an immediately needed relief bill. It isn’t just people left of the aisle advocating for DoD budget cuts, Conservatives also see the potential good reallocating these funds can have on all people, including those who’ve been forgotten and ignored by the government.

Even if the argument that the reallocation of military funding is unrealistic, there still needs to be a discussion on the DoD budget. During recent discussions that were meant to provide aid for suffering Americans, there was still the prioritization of the military over the People. Within these talks, there was the further prioritized of spending aimed towards expanding the fleet and expanding the U.S.’s status as a military powerhouse over programs aimed towards reducing their impact on the environment.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is the U.S. government prioritizing massive spending on the DoD over the People even when their lives are on the line.

🌎 🌱 Image credit: Alice Butenko (@alivka)

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