Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress are likely to drive U.S. military budgets even higher in 2007, experts say.
This year’s Pentagon budget is $436 billion. That amount does not include more than $140 billion that’s being spent this year alone on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“If you think a new wind is blowing in Washington in terms of security issues because the Democrats are going to take over Congress, you probably have another thing coming,” Christopher Hellman of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation told OneWorld.
Hellman said that because Democrats are afraid to appear weak on national security, they are likely to continue funding Cold War weapons systems like the F-22 fighter plane, which was designed to address projected Soviet capabilities that no longer exist.
This year, the Pentagon requested no F-22 fighters, but Congress added $1.4 billion to purchase 20 of the aircraft.
The House of Representatives passed the annual defense authorization bill 396-31, with only 30 Democrats voting against it. The same bill passed 96-0 in the Senate.
“The issue is jobs, pure and simple,” Hellman said. “The F-22, as its builders will proudly tell you, represents 1,000 corporations in 42 states around the country. That represents a huge number of jobs.”
Democrats also have specific areas where they want to expand military spending after they assume congressional leadership positions in January.
“America needs a bigger and better military,” reads an October report by Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute, the policy arm of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which counts Senators Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) among its members.
“Escalating conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the all-volunteer force to the breaking point,” the report says. “Democrats should step forward with a plan to repair the damage, by adding more troops, replenishing depleted stocks of equipment, and reorganizing the force around the new missions of unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency, and civil reconstruction.”
William Hartung, an arms control expert at the New York-based World Policy Institute, believes the Democrats will most closely adhere to a March 2006 plan called “Real Security,” which has been endorsed by both the incoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
That plan stresses energy efficiency and the use of alternative fuels as well as securing “loose nuclear materials that terrorists could use to build nuclear weapons.” Hartung likes those promises but is unhappy the Democrats appear unwilling to stop production of Cold War weapons, reduce the size of America’s 10,000-warhead-strong nuclear arsenal, or scrap development of the Pentagon’s still unworkable missile defense system, which Hartung says has consumed over $130 billion of taxpayer money since Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “Star Wars” speech.
Col. Dan Smith (ret.) of the Friends Committee on National Legislation cautions that military spending is rising so fast that it threatens to overwhelm every other aspect of American government.
In addition to the Pentagon’s $436 billion regular budget and the $140 billion spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Smith writes on his blog, “The Quakers’ Colonel,” taxpayers will be coughing up $11 billion authorized in prior years to cover the costs of retiree health costs. Military construction and “quality of life” issues for the current forces have grown to $59.8 billion, he says. Military nuclear weapons programs that are funded in the Department of Energy budget add $17 billion more.
In addition, Smith says, “the nation is still paying for past wars. The Veterans Administration is slated to receive $76 billion. The interest on the money borrowed to finance past wars is conservatively estimated at $169.4 billion.”
None of that even counts money spent on the Department of Homeland Security.
Putting it all together, according to Smith, the 2007 costs for past, current, and future wars comes to more than $900 billion “within hailing distance of the $1 trillion mark.”
This type of spending concerns the World Policy Institute’s William Hartung, too. “I would like to see bolder Democratic positions,” he says, “particularly on the war in Iraq and using the power of the purse to move towards withdrawal from Iraq [and] cutting unnecessary military spending.”
“But despite that, there will be hearings and some accountability,” he adds. “At least the terrain on which the debate will take place will be different.”