“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies… a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children.”
On Jan. 17, 63 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower bid adieu to his second term in office. His parting remarks were equally appropriate for a United States about to be shaken by the Cuban Missile Crisis as they are for the 21st century humanitarian catastrophes wrought by the invasion of Ukraine and the offensive in Gaza.
Eisenhower recognized that entrenched corporate interests could push the country into new wars. Over six decades later, it’s past time to heed that warning.
The Military-Industrial Complex Then and Now
The post-9/11 wars taught us an $8 trillion lesson: throwing endless amounts of money at military force doesn’t make us safer. Despite private contractors receiving almost half of the military budget, they failed to develop the cost-effective aircraft for which the U.S. Air Force paid them. Instead, they made the much-delayed $1 trillion F-35 program that would become the most expensive weapons system in American history.
Enabling this unwarranted influence are the Pentagon’s unfunded priorities lists (UPL), annual requests to Congress on behalf of military leaders for additional programs they would pursue if only they received more funding. Separate from the formal budget process, these wish lists are consistently used to justify massive increases to the Pentagon’s bloated budget. Since 2017, this annual process has been mandatory.
The controversial F-35 program made a regular appearance on the Pentagon’s wish lists until they were finally included in the standard budget process last year, following Germany’s purchase of several of the $120 million aircraft in late 2022.
This year, FCNL’s grassroots Advocacy Teams will advocate to end the wasteful and unnecessary mandatory unfunded priorities lists by supporting the bipartisan, bicameral Streamline Pentagon Budgeting Act (H.R. 4740), led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Mike Braun (IN) and Mike Lee (UT), and Reps. John Garamendi (CA-8) and Pramila Jayapal (WA-7).
At their first national call of the year, the Advocacy Teams emphasized that while much has changed since Eisenhower’s farewell address, the needs of the people who fund military expenses have not. As purchasing power stagnates, everyday Americans are still forced to make tough financial choices. The Pentagon should follow suit.
Advancing the People’s Priorities
We have a real chance to assert the needs of everyday Americans by repealing the mandate for the unfunded priorities list through the Streamline Pentagon Budgeting Act.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his predecessor Robert Gates have spoken out against the wish lists. Members of Congress across the aisle have decried the UPL for reasons from its facilitation of wasteful, deficit-boosting spending; lack of federal transparency and accountability; and its encouragement of competition within different military branches, hindering security objectives.
With global risks ranging from climate change, arms racing, and inadvertent escalation of ongoing crises, repealing the UPL mandate and reorienting our understanding of security and safety for all cannot wait until tomorrow.