During a recent speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Bernie Sanders called for a 10% cut to the defense budget in order to redirect that money toward education, health care, and poverty reduction in America’s most marginalized communities. Sanders’ amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would take the $74 billion in annual savings from Pentagon cuts—which exempt salaries and health care of military personnel—to create a federal grant program to fund health care, housing, childcare, and educational opportunities for cities and towns experiencing a poverty rate of 25% or more.
“Whether it is fighting against systemic racism and police brutality, transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel, ending a cruel and dysfunctional healthcare system or addressing the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in our country – now is the time for change, real change,” Sanders said in a statement on the Senate floor Thursday.
“And when we talk about real change it is incredible to me the degree to which Congress continues to ignore our bloated $740 billion defense budget—which has gone up by over $100 billion since Trump has been in office.”
Due to the fact that the national defense budget is larger than the next 11 nations combined, Sanders noted that a fraction of that budget would save thousands of lives while investing in the futures of impoverished Americans. Facing a global pandemic, the country has higher priorities than incessantly paying billions of dollars in defense contracts.
“If the horrific pandemic we are now experiencing has taught us anything it is that national security means a lot more than building bombs, missiles, jet fighters, tanks, submarines, nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction,” Sanders continued. “National security also means doing everything we can to improve the lives of our people, many of whom have been abandoned by our government decade after decade.
In order to begin the process of transforming our national priorities I have filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act with Senator Markey to reduce the military budget by 10 percent and use the $74 billion in savings to invest in distressed communities around the country that have been ravaged by extreme poverty, mass incarceration, deindustrialization and decades of neglect.”
The senator directly addressed Trump: “Mr. President, when we analyze the Defense Department budget it is interesting to note that Congress has appropriated so much money for the Defense Department that the Pentagon literally does not know what to do with it. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), between 2013 and 2018 the Pentagon returned more than $80 billion in funding back to the Treasury…
“Mr. President, let’s be clear. About half of the Pentagon’s budget goes directly into the hands of private contractors, not our troops.
“And, over the past two decades, virtually every major defense contractor in the United States has paid millions of dollars in fines and settlements for misconduct and fraud—all while making huge profits on those government contracts.
“Since 1995, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and United Technologies have paid over $3 billion in fines or related settlements for fraud or misconduct. Yet, those three companies received around $1 trillion in defense contracts over the past two decades alone.”
Sanders concluded, “And as President Eisenhower said as he left office in 1961: ‘In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.’”
On Friday, Sanders took to Twitter and wrote, “Cut the Pentagon. Feed, shelter, educate, and employ all our people.”