1. Update
  2. U.S. Wars & Militarism

Don’t Let Congress Stick Its Head in the Sand on Pentagon Spending

By Diana Ohlbaum, July 15, 2020


There are some things that can’t be put back in the box. And others that shouldn’t.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spun out of control, with record-breaking numbers of new infections in the United States and major setbacks for the process of reopening. The virus isn’t going away any time soon.

Meanwhile, the sustained protest against militarized policing and racist policies reflects a sea-change in Americans’ willingness to confront the legacy of slavery and white supremacy. Unprecedented numbers of Americans consider racism and discrimination to be “a big problem”, and recent polling suggests that Black Lives Matter is the largest protest movement in U.S. history.

In the face of these seismic shifts, one thing remains disturbingly unchanged: the Pentagon budget.

These developments are causing millions of Americans to question long-held notions about national security. They now see that the greatest threats to human lives and livelihoods have no military solutions, and that the billions spent on police, weapons, and wars are actually making Black people, people of color, women, and others here at home and around the world less safe.

Yet in the face of these seismic shifts, one thing remains disturbingly unchanged: the Pentagon budget.

The House Armed Services Committee just approved, by unanimous vote of 56-0, a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would bring this year’s military spending total to $741 billion. The bill ramps up nuclear weapons development, remains silent on the conduct of unauthorized wars, and places no limits on the transfer of military equipment to state and local police forces. Although we expect floor votes challenging these provisions, House leadership seems more interested in passing legislation the president will sign than adapting the bill to the changing needs of our nation. The only upside to the bill as it currently stands is its requirement to remove Confederate names from U.S. bases.

Likewise, on the Senate side, Pentagon business continues largely as usual. The Senate’s proposal was produced in secret. Only Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) voted against moving the bill to the full Senate for consideration. When the bill reached the floor before the July Fourth holiday, an amendment by Sens. Rand Paul (KY) and Tom Udall (NM) to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was defeated 60-33. Of nearly 750 amendments submitted, Senators agreed to hold votes on only six – and to require 60 votes for passage of each.

While at least two important amendments will be voted upon when the Senate returns next week – an amendment from Sen. Sanders (VT) to cut the Pentagon budget by 10 percent and redirect the funding to domestic human needs, and a provision from Sen. Schatz (HI) to limit the transfers of military equipment to police – this 60-vote requirement will be a difficult hurdle to overcome. What’s clear from all this is that Congress desperately needs a wake-up call. The widespread death and disruption caused by COVID-19 and the moral outrage against police brutality and white supremacy have not been reflected in this process. You can weigh in by urging your senators and representatives to support the Sanders-Markey-Warren and Pocan-Lee amendments to redirect 10 percent of the military budget into urgent human needs.

Change is upon us – some of it long awaited and some of it unexpected. Congress may want to stick its head in the sand, but people have the power to prevent that from happening.

Diana Ohlbaum

  • Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum directs FCNL’s foreign policy lobbying team and leads an effort to replace the current U.S. foreign policy paradigm of military domination and national superiority with a more ethical and effective one based on cooperation and mutual respect.