“Progressives” Split as Most Democrats Support Massive Pentagon Budget Hike

Peace Advocate December 2021

Airmen from the 90th Maintenance Group maintain and repair Minuteman III ICBMs on alert status Dec. 18, 2019, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, WY. Photo: Senior Airman Abbigayle Williams, 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Airmen from the 90th Maintenance Group maintain and repair Minuteman III ICBMs on alert status Dec. 18, 2019, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, WY. The recently adopted Pentagon budget will fill these silos with a new generation of missiles. Photo: Senior Airman Abbigayle Williams, 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs

by Paul Shannon and Cole Harrison

The 363-70 House vote Dec. 7, and 88-11 Senate vote Dec. 15, in favor of a massive $778 billion Pentagon budget, shows clearly that the only thing most Democrats and Republicans can agree on is to bring ruin to the world and to the United States itself.

Joining centrist Democrats and Republicans, the majority of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) voted for the military increase (51-43).  Rep. Pramila Jayapal has held the caucus together as it battles for the Build Back Better act, but was not able to enforce any discipline on the Pentagon spending vote.  “Progressive” New England reps. Lori Trahan (D-MA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), David Cicilline (D-RI) joined former CPC caucus chair Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) in approving the arms industry gravy train.

In Massachusetts, 5 of our 9 House representatives.  Reps. Keating, Lynch, Moulton, Neal, and Trahan, voted to open the floodgates of weapons spending, while Reps. Auchincloss, Clark, McGovern, and Pressley, together with Senators Warren and Markey, voted no.

About 20% of the $778 billion will go to just 5 weapons companies, including Massachusetts-based Raytheon.  Even though Biden withdrew U.S. troops from Afghanistan, this budget represents a $38 billion increase compared to military spending during Trump’s final year, and a $169 billion increase compared to Obama’s final year.  Congress added $24 billion to Biden’s Pentagon budget request by funding “wish list” projects that the generals had set as lower priorities.

Proposed FY2022 Pentagon budget vs. budgets from FY2016-21. Graphic: Stephen Semler
Proposed FY2022 Pentagon budget vs. budgets from FY2016-21. Graphic: Stephen Semler

The vote is about as clear a statement that can be made that the United States Congress has decided on several frightening courses of action.

The first is to make sure that climate change will send the planet into its death throes. The money authorized for climate in the scaled back “Build Back Better” bill is about $550 billion over 10 years – that’s if the oil and gas oligarchs allow their congressional mercenaries to vote for it. The Congressional military budget vote means that we will spend a minimum of $7.6 trillion on the military over those same 10 years, 14 times as much.

It’s not just this massive diversion of funding that guarantees climate catastrophe. This unheard of war budget (3 times the size of China’s war spending) guarantees a dangerous cold war, and possibly hot war, with a militarily encircled China, making the level of cooperation on climate change needed to avert terminal warming virtually impossible. That new military budget will also grease the wheels of a climate destroying machine: the U.S. military itself is the biggest single producer of carbon emissions on earth, undermining life on our planet more than many entire countries.

The second course of action that Congress has decided on through this vote is to allow pandemics to rage around us. As the developing world waits for vaccines and variants multiply, our vast military spending over the past 20 years is responsible for the fact that our resource starved public health system and emergency response apparatus was woefully unprepared to deal with the COVID onslaught and the dangerous social polarization it has intensified. While we were launching battleship after battleship and building missile after missile, we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to find PPE and masks and ventilators. The owner of the New England Patriots even sent his own private jet to China to see if he could find medical supplies there. States were competing with each other as our health care workers tried to save our lives in workplaces filled with the virus. It was too dangerous for them even to go home at night! This $768 billion Pentagon budget guarantees that we will not have the resources, expertise and international cooperation needed to buttress the kind of national and international public health system that can effectively and equitably address pandemics, presently and down the road.

The third course of action Congress has chosen is to fully fund militarism while cutting programs to help the people, like the Build Back Better act.  Even after being cut from the original $6 trillion to $1.75 trillion, Build Back Better would start the fight against climate change and provide universal pre-K, child tax credits, paid family leave, healthcare improvements, and affordable housing.  After voting with a lopsided majority in favor of massive military spending, Republicans and centrist Democrats are suddenly discovering fiscal discipline when it comes to BBB.

The new nuclear weapons that will be brought on line with this new military budget, and the corresponding responses of other countries modernizing their nuclear arsenals, ratchets up the possibility that we won’t have to worry about pandemics and climate disruption after all. For a modest nuclear exchange and the ensuing nuclear winter will destroy the possibility of life on earth in rather short order.  The FY2022 NDAA funds a new generation of ICBMs, new ballistic missile submarines and the missiles they carry (which are designed in Cambridge), sea-launched and air-launched cruise missiles, the B-21 strategic bomber, and improvements for gravity nuclear bombs.

Progressives and pro-peace forces must learn a lesson from this debacle.  We cannot accept peanuts in domestic spending as a tradeoff for allowing the generals and military-industrial complex to continually expand their budgets.  The good news is that 70 members of the House and 11 of the Senate, including six from Massachusetts, were willing to say no to this folly.  We must be uncompromising in our efforts to grow this number and to insist that they take every opportunity to use their power.

— Paul Shannon coordinates the Raytheon Antiwar Campaign and is a MAPA board member.  Cole Harrison is executive director of MAPA.