The U.S. Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act in an overwhelming bipartisan vote on Thursday after rejecting Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ push for a 10% cut to military spending.
Just 11 senators, including Sanders (I-Vt.), voted against final passage of the sprawling NDAA, which would authorize a record $886 billion in military spending for the coming fiscal year—including over $844 billion for the Pentagon and roughly $32 billion for the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this month that U.S. nuclear forces will cost the nation $756 billion over the next decade, or over $75 billion a year. By comparison, the student debt cancellation plan that the Supreme Court struck down last month would have cost $30 billion annually over ten years, according to the Education Department.
In a floor speech ahead of Thursday’s vote, Sanders lamented that “year after year, with very little debate, we pour hundreds of billions of dollars into the military-industrial complex” while neglecting healthcare, education, housing, and the boiling planet.
“While defense contractors make huge profits, while the Pentagon remains unordered—with massive waste and fraud—we now spend more than the next 10 nations combined,” said Sanders. “Enough is enough. It’s time to change our national priorities, and cutting military spending by 10% is a good way to begin.”
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), one of the few senators to both support Sanders’ amendment and vote against the NDAA, said in a statement that “the Senate voted to pad the Pentagon with a cushy, near trillion-dollar spending package to the tune of $886 billion—a ridiculous dollar figure that the military does not need.”
“The American people have repeatedly heard from Republicans that we need to cut government spending—for education, for healthcare, for food assistance—and now they are enthusiastically throwing every nickel and dime they can find between the couch cushions to their defense contractor friends,” Markey added. “It’s shameful.”
The Senate and House will now begin the process of reconciling the differences between their respective versions of the NDAA. Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled House—with the support of four Democrats—passed an NDAA loaded with right-wing amendments that would roll back abortion access and gender-affirming care for servicemembers.
But what the two chambers’ bills have in common is the $886 billion topline, which is in step with President Joe Biden’s original request for fiscal year 2024 and a $28 billion increase over the military spending level authorized for the current fiscal year.
As Politicoreported, the Senate bill “includes nonbinding language that warns the $886 billion national defense spending limit set by a recent debt ceiling deal isn’t sufficient and urges Biden to request emergency supplemental funding for Ukraine, munitions production, and other necessities.” Critics have warned that such supplemental spending could become a new Pentagon “slush fund.”
Following Thursday’s vote, Public Citizen president Robert Weissman wrote that “we’re told that we don’t have enough money for daycare, universal pre-K, housing the homeless, providing hearing aids for seniors, tackling the climate crisis.”
“We do not need to spend $886 billion on the Pentagon,” he added. “Spending $886 billion on the Pentagon will not make us safer. “Redirecting 10% of that total for healthcare, education, climate, and other priorities—as Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed—would.”