With the Senate preparing to vote on an annual defense policy bill calling for $740.5 billion in military spending for fiscal year 2021, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday delivered a floor speech in support of his new amendment aiming to cut the proposed Pentagon budget by 10%—around $74 billion—and devote those resources to funding healthcare, housing, jobs, and education in impoverished U.S. communities.
“At this pivotal moment in American history, we have to make a fundamental decision,” Sanders said on the Senate floor. “Do we want to spend billions more on endless wars in the Middle East, or do we want to provide decent jobs to millions of unemployed Americans here at home? Do we want to spend more money on nuclear weapons or do we want to invest in decent jobs and childcare and healthcare for the American people most in need?”
Sanders’ amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—which the Vermont senator filed Thursday alongside Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—would take $74 billion in Pentagon savings and “create a federal grant program to fund healthcare, housing, childcare, and educational opportunities for cities and towns experiencing a poverty rate of 25% or more,” according to a summary released by Sanders’ office.
Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) filed a companion amendment in the House.
“Under this amendment,” Sanders said, “distressed cities and towns in every state in the country would be able to use these funds to create jobs by building affordable housing, schools, childcare facilities, community health centers, public hospitals, libraries, sustainable energy projects, and clean drinking water facilities.”
“Now at this moment of unprecedented national crises—a growing pandemic, an economic meltdown, the demand to end systemic racism, and police brutality, and an unstable president—it is time for us to truly focus on what we value as a society and to fundamentally transform our national priorities,” Sanders continued. “Cutting the military budget by 10 percent and investing that money in human needs is a modest way to begin that process.”
Watch Sanders’ full speech:
Following Sanders’ remarks, the Senate late Thursday easily cleared a procedural hurdle and paved the way for a final vote on the NDAA. Just seven senators voted against the motion: Sens. Sanders, Markey, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
“Year after year Democrats and Republicans, who disagree on almost everything, come together with minimal debate to support an exploding Pentagon budget which is now higher than the next 11 nations combined, and represents more than half of our discretionary spending,” Sanders said on the Senate floor. “Incredibly, after adjusting for inflation, we are now spending more on the military than we did during the height of the Cold War or during the wars in Vietnam and Korea.”
Good News: Senate Democrats blocked the GOP’s woefully inadequate police “reform” bill— Warren Gunnels (@GunnelsWarren) June 26, 2020
Bad News: The Senate voted 90-7 to proceed to a bill to increase the Pentagon budget to $740B
Under Trump, defense spending has gone up by more than $100B while 40M Americans live in poverty
If approved, Sanders’ amendment “would apply a blunt 14 percent cut to all of the accounts authorized by the bill except for Defense Department and military payroll, and the Defense Health Program,” according to The Intercept, which obtained draft text of the amendment ahead of its official introduction Thursday.
“Why do we spend more on the military than the next 11 nations combined?” Sanders asked on Twitter. “I have a better idea: Cut Pentagon spending by 10% and invest it in the fight to end homelessness, hunger, and poverty in the richest country on Earth.”