GUEST COMMENTARY - With the U.S. just 10 days away from a possible default, House Republicans are now demanding a military budget even larger than the record $858 billion that Congress authorized for the current fiscal year as they continue pushing for steep cuts to key aid programs.
The GOP demand was reported over the weekend after Republican negotiators rejected a White House offer to "freeze" both military and non-military spending—an idea that congressional Republicans previously appeared open to—in exchange for a debt ceiling increase, causing talks to break down. The powerful defense industry, which donates heavily to Democrats and Republicans, howled in protest earlier this year at the prospect of military spending cuts.
Republicans are also, according toPolitico, "demanding work requirements for SNAP recipients that are more rigid than those they originally proposed" and "insisting on adding new immigration provisions from the GOP's recently passed border bill" while dismissing White House proposals to cut prescription drug spending and close tax loopholes exploited by the rich.
"Republicans in D.C. are pushing for a massive increase in the $858 billion Pentagon budget, a $1.8 trillion tax break to people who inherit over $1 billion, and a $3.5 trillion extension of Trump's tax breaks," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is urging President Joe Biden to act unilaterally to end the debt ceiling standoff, wrote over the weekend. "Oh, did they tell you how very, very concerned they are about the deficit?"
Higher military spending would mean that, in order for Republicans to achieve their stated spending-reduction goals, non-military spending would have to be slashed even more aggressively. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that cuts to other federal programs—from housing to childcare to medical research—"would be enormous" if military spending and veterans' healthcare were spared: "33% in 2024 rising to an eye-popping 59% cut in 2033."
The fresh GOP push for an even more bloated Pentagon budget came as a new "60 Minutes" investigation examined how private military contractors—a major lobbying force in Washington with nearly 800 registered influence-peddlers—price gouge the Defense Department with impunity, fueling the agency's annual spending growth.
"The gouging that takes place is unconscionable. It's unconscionable," Shay Assad, a former top contract negotiator at the Pentagon who previously worked at Raytheon—making him a so-called "reverse revolver"—told the program.
"No matter who they are, no matter what company it is, they need to be held accountable. And right now that accountability system is broken in the Department of Defense," said Assad. "If you're happy with companies gouging you and just looking you right in the eye and say, 'I'm gonna keep gouging you because I know you don't have the guts to do anything about it,' then I guess we should just keep doing what we're doing."
"This is what Rep. Barbara Lee and I have been talking about," Rep. Mark Pocan(D-Wis.), co-chair of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus, tweeted in response to the "60 Minutes" probe. "We need to #AuditThePentagon."
A Pentagon-backed study released last month found, unsurprisingly, that "publicly traded U.S.-based corporations in the defense industrial base are, in aggregate, financially healthy."
"They are profitable," the study continued. "They generate substantial amounts of cash beyond their needs for operations or capital investment; the bulk is returned to shareholders so they can invest it elsewhere. They generate total returns to shareholders well in excess of what one might expect given their relative low risk to investors. Bankruptcies or other signs of financial distress are exceptionally rare. Strong financial performance was maintained even during periods of market turmoil."
Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, has estimated that more than half of all Pentagon spending between fiscal years 2002 and 2021 went to private contractors that provide the government with military equipment.
"Free advice for the speaker of the House: if you want to cut spending so bad, start and end with the Pentagon budget," the progressive advocacy group Public Citizensaid on Saturday. "Don't touch SNAP or Social Security or Medicare and Medicaid."
(Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams where this article was first published.)