Military Spending Soars to Progressives’ Dismay

December 18th, 2022 - by Elllen Mitchell / The Hill

Defense Budget Skyrockets as Progressives Lawmakers Clamor for Change

Elllen Mitchell / The Hill

(December 16, 2022) — Progressive lawmakers are raising the alarm over a behemoth $858 billion defense authorization bill sent to President Biden’s desk by the Senate on Thursday.

The price tag for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — which lays out how the Defense Department will allocate its budget in fiscal 2023 in addition to funding various national security programs outside its jurisdiction — comes in $85 billion higher than what the Biden administration first requested earlier this year prior to congressional negotiating.

Democrats in both the House and Senate have labeled the final figure as a money grab that does more for padding the pockets of defense contractors than it does for the average warfighter or combating threats.

“I think the Pentagon’s budget is so big and overblown even Dr. Strangelove would be impressed,” House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told The Hill.

“As somebody who’s been in the trenches trying to fight to combat hunger in this country and running up against roadblocks left and right in terms of funding, it just seems to me the funding of projects — some the Pentagon didn’t even ask for — that money would be better spent helping people here,” he added.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, warned that mega defense spending was coming at the expense of priorities such as domestic manufacturing and funding child care and health care.

“We’re heading towards a $1 trillion defense budget. It’s concerning,” Khanna said.

Progressive lawmakers for the past several years have pushed for steep cuts to the defense budget while Democrats have been in control of the House, Senate and the White House.

Yet the cost of the packages keep rising as Republicans demand more spending for the Pentagon. Plenty of Democrats in both chambers have also been glad to vote “yes” for the funding, or to at least not stand in the way of a final package.

Total national defense spending has been pushed well beyond $700 billion since early in former President Trump’s term, when he and Republican defense hawks argued the military must be brought up to snuff following years of budget caps.

Next year’s military budget will be about 10 percent larger than last year’s $770 billion NDAA, which was itself about 5 percent higher than the year before.

This year’s bill is one of the largest U.S. defense budgets since the end of World War II, after adjusting for inflation. The only other years it was outpaced were the 2009 and 2010 spending peaks of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, writes Monica Montgomery, a policy analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Proponents of robust defense funding have argued the high number is necessary to offset inflation and to carry out a new national security strategy aimed at countering Russia and China, including ambitious plans to greatly expand the Navy’s fleet and modernize nuclear weapons.

They also claim the dollars are meant to restock critical weapons given to Ukraine in its fight with Russia, but such dollars “only account for a fraction of the overall increases,” Montgomery said.

Compounding the whole dynamic is the outsized influence placed on the budget process by the service branches with their own concerns, defense contractors and lobbyists, and lawmakers who play lead roles in developing and approving spending who are also hard pressed to serve their districts, she noted.

“The result is a failure to effectively translate an already opaque defense strategy into dollars, leaving the government with an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach to crafting the budget and a misguided notion that if enough money is thrown at a threat, it can be defeated.”

The bulk of programs receiving funding boosts are from the Pentagon’s unfunded priorities lists — so-called wish lists annually submitted to Congress that include programs the Defense Department would like to fund but can’t find the money for and are in addition to their official budget requests.

For decades the department has submitted the congressionally required lists, but for the first time this year it submitted not one but two unfunded priorities asks for a total of nearly $50 billion.

Montgomery, who called the lists a “budget gimmick,” said they allow the military services and various defense-related agencies “to circumvent top civilian leadership at the White House and Pentagon by directly providing Congress with a list of so-called priorities that did not make it into the administration’s budget request and can be used as an easy road map for boosting the budget.”


To try to circumvent that loophole, a bipartisan group of senators on Thursday offered a way to whittle down the massive defense top-line numbers by introducing the Streamline Pentagon Spending Act.

The bill seeks to “repeal statutory requirements to provide unfunded priorities lists, reduce wasteful reporting burdens, and enhance civilian oversight over the budgetary process,” according to a statement released by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Warren — who offered the bill alongside Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Mike Lee (R-Utah.) and Angus King (I-Maine.), as well as Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) — called unfunded priorities lists “bureaucratic money-grabbing” used as “the Pentagon’s primary tool to boost an already excessive top line.”

Jayapal, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the unfunded requirements only “force Congress to pour more money into an already bloated defense budget that benefits from no oversight or accountability.”

Progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)

“We cannot continue sinking enormous sums of money into non-critical wish list items that are not even priorities of current DoD leadership—all while working people suffer,” she added.

The effort, though ambitious, is not likely to take off given past hesitancies to curtail the Defense Department’s budget, such as the 2020 proposal from Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to cut Pentagon spending by 10 percent. The language, offered as an amendment to the NDAA, didn’t make it in after only 93 lawmakers supported the measure.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered a nearly identical measure to slash the Pentagon’s budget by 10 percent but was roundly rejected.

McGovern — a longtime proponent of redirecting Pentagon funding toward domestic priorities such as combating hunger and bolstering education and health care dollars — said he’s weary of those initiatives being “shortchanged” to build more weapons.

“Our priorities are screwed up,” he said. “I appreciate all the work that went into the bill, there’s a lot of good things in the NDAA, but at the end of the day, the top-line number is so high I can’t justify voting for this.”

See Who Voted Against
Funding Wars and Militarism

Here is the list of the no votes on the NDAA in the House — 35 Republicans and 45 Democrats voted no.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.