Amid a Washington frenzied these past weeks over hurricanes, high-level convictions, tell-all books, and high-stakes nomination hearings, you might not have heard that Congress has just reached a final deal for a massive $717 billion Pentagon spending measure.
Passage of the bill was not surprising, because it was paired with critical human needs funding and a deal to prevent a government shutdown.
What is surprising is how willing Congress is to lavish funds on the Defense Department to buy additional weapons – above and beyond even the increases requested by President Trump – while at the same time considering a farm bill that would force two million Americans into food insecurity, removing vital nutrition assistance from those struggling to make ends meet.
Demands for the wise use of taxpayer dollars have been almost entirely absent when it comes to the military. Far too many in Congress insist that debts and deficits can be no obstacle to defense spending, even though the Pentagon is unable to account for how these dollars are spent.
Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist recently admitted that, as the Defense Department finally begins the full audit that every other agency has been required to undergo for years, he “doesn’t know how much it will cost to fix the problems.” House Armed Services Chair Mac Thornberry, when asked about the audit, was frank: “It will be ugly, I promise you… I have no doubt there will be more problems than any of us can fathom.” Yet he had no issues giving the Department of Defense a $100 billion windfall all the same.
The farm bill originally passed by the House of Representatives seeks to pile on ever stricter work requirements for struggling mothers—but Congress does not insist on the production of working aircraft or carriers for them to fly from. Members of Congress demand that minimum wage workers be held accountable for waste and fraud, but refuse to hold back a single cent from the Pentagon for its perpetual failure to pass an audit. The Pentagon and military contractors get billions with a “b” and struggling families get nickel-and-dimed.
The United States is the richest country on earth. Protecting the poor among us is not a luxury; it is a moral imperative. When Congress clamors for budget cuts to vital help for the poor while never questioning a military budget that far exceeds any and all potential U.S. adversaries combined, we have lost our moral compass.
We will never bomb our way to a truly secure world. We must instead address the root sources of conflict—poverty, injustice, corruption, bigotry, and hate—through the use of real solutions like sustained diplomacy, peacebuilding, and humanitarian aid.
The questions facing our nation this fall are fundamental. For too long our representatives have sleepwalked through budget choices that keep defense contractors well stocked and struggling families on the edge. It’s time to wake up and start changing course.