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Last month, Reps. Barbara Lee (CA-12) and Mark Pocan (WI-2) reintroduced the People Over Pentagon Act (H.R. 1134), a bill that would cut $100 billion from the Pentagon budget and redirect this funding to address pressing human needs, including education, healthcare and addressing the climate crisis.

The bill’s introduction was especially timely since it was followed shortly after by the release of President Biden’s budget request, which included $886 billion in defense spending— the largest defense budget request in history. 

Pressure Points that Push Washington Towards Pentagon Spending Increases

The People Over Pentagon Act directly responds to the erroneous and dangerous consensus growing in Washington:That conflict between great global power is inevitable. Concerns about China’s global influence, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and the impact of inflation have all been used by hawkish policymakers to justify record-breaking defense spending.

But these arguments aren’t rooted in reality. Russia’s military budget is only 1/10 the size of the U.S. military budget already, and the United States spends two and a half times as much as China does on its military. Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine is indeed horrible, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to justify an even larger Pentagon budget. Aid for Ukraine is a wholly separate question than the base U.S. military budget. Only $800 million of the current $858 billion budget relates to Ukraine - the remainder has and will continue to be passed through supplemental packages.

In reality, defense contractors are the true beneficiaries of this bloated spending. Every year, about half of the massive Pentagon budget goes directly into the pockets of big  companies, who contract with the U.S. military to produce weapons of war. Under the defense budget for fiscal year 2023, approximately $452 billion will be paid out to these contractors. 

Yet, as we continue to line the pockets of these multi-billion dollar corporations, urgent priorities  that truly protect Americans and foster their security, like healthcare, education, and infrastructure, go unmet. This distorted spending needs to end. As Rep. Mark Pocan said of his new bill, “More defense spending does not guarantee safety, but it does guarantee that the military-industrial complex will continue to get richer.”

Emerging Bipartisan Push Back to Endless Pentagon Spending

In addition to the People Over Pentagon Act, other bipartisan efforts have emerged as part of a larger conversation over the problem of runaway Pentagon spending. 

Senator Elizabeth Warren recently led a bipartisan challenge to the Unfunded Priorities Lists (UPL’s), a tool the Pentagon uses to obtain tens of billions of dollars in funding above the President’s own budget request. Fiscally conservative House Republicans have also been considering how reducing defense spending might fit into their proposed overall spending cuts to the U.S. budget. Some GOP members have proposed a cap to all new discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels, which would result in a $75 billion cut in the defense budget for fiscal year 2024.

These efforts have received pushback from some members of Congress, who argue that defense spending should be off the table of potential spending cuts. Yet these lawmakers take no issue with putting on the chopping block vital social needs programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Social Security. Cutting funds to these programs would harm low-income families and elderly and disabled individuals, who depend on them for their survival.

True Security Threats Are Not Solved by Military Might

Reducing waste, fraud, and abuse is an important aspect of government oversight, but cutting funding for essential programs that serve the most vulnerable members of our society is not the answer. When it comes to the federal budget, a comprehensive approach must be taken – one that does not place the burden solely on the shoulders of those who need the most help, while continuing to expand funds for wealthy, weapons-producing corporations. 

We urge lawmakers to support the People Over Pentagon Act, invest in human needs instead of weapons and war, and consider the broader implications of any proposed spending cuts. The pandemic, the climate crisis, rising economic inequality, systemic racism, and violent nationalism are just a few of the issues driving true insecurity, not “insufficient” military spending. 

It’s time to acknowledge the truth: The primary domestic and global challenges we face cannot be defeated through military might. 

Staff: Vlad Salas Moreno

Vlad Salas Moreno

Program Assistant, Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending (2022-2023)

Vladimir Salas Moreno served as FCNL’s Program Assistant for Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending for 2022-2023.