The United States spends more on the military than the top eight countries combined – but that’s still not enough for our military-industrial-congressional complex. They want yet more tax dollars shoveled into that bottomless maw, and it looks like they’re going to get it.
The House of Representatives just passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018, authorizing an all-time high of $696.5 billion. This is $72 billion over the budget cap required by sequestration legislation, and has to be reconciled with the $700 billion bill coming out of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Both bills spend more on the military than even the Trump administration – which pledged a massive military build up during the campaign – and the Pentagon proposed. The bill passed with bipartisan support: only 71 Democrats and 8 Republicans voted against it.
The sole objection the Democrats had to this budget-busting bill was that military spending did not achieve “parity” with domestic spending: with 60 votes required in the Senate to abrogate sequestration caps, the Democrats are using their leverage not to reduce military spending, but to increase domestic spending. As Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, put it:
“[T]o simply gut the nondefense discretionary budget, to plus-up defense does not make this country safer. I care enough about national security that I would raise taxes to pay for it.”
Of course he would. That’s because the two parties have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to military spending: the Democrats go along with budget-busting “defense” bills as long as Republicans makes concessions insofar as domestic spending is concerned – and everyone gets to keep (and increase) their favorite boondoggles.
Speaking of which, an amendment offered by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), that would have lifted a ban on another round of base realignment and closure measures, was defeated. While this is outrageous, it’s hardly surprising: obsolete bases on American soil that serve no military purpose do indeed serve a political purpose – keeping federal dollars flowing to those congressional districts. This outcome dramatizes the entire budget process, especially when it comes to the military: it has little to do with actually defending the country, and everything to do with defending the political interests of members of Congress.
Of course, the McClintock amendment got almost no publicity, while the Hartzler amendment – which would have defunded sex change operations for military personnel – hogged the spotlight. This amendment failed, with 24 House Republicans – including “libertarian” Justin Amash – voting to kill it. Rumor has it that Defense Secretary James Mattis called Rep. Vicky Hartzler and asked her to withdraw it. The Hartzler measure was characterized as the “anti-trans amendment,” but in reality it was nothing of the kind. Transgender women and men are permitted to serve in the military, and nothing in the amendment would’ve changed that: if passed, it would have simply required transgender military personnel to pay for their own surgery.
Another amendment that got some visibility was one that would have stripped the proposal to create a “Space Corps’ from the NDAA. The Trump administration, the Pentagon, and Mattis all oppose the Space Corps idea, but the House never got to a vote: instead, the amendment was tossed out by the Rules Committee. No doubt about it, there are some powerful interests at play here, all of which are major contributors to Rep. Mike Rogers’ campaign chest: GenCorp, Lockheed, General Atomics, General Dynamics, Northrup Gumman, Honeywell International, etc. etc. Rogers, an Alabama Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is one of the chief Space Corps proponents.
The military-industrial-congressional complex would naturally welcome the addition of yet another bureaucratic structure designed to suck up tax dollars and expand the military contractor gravy train; and the nascent “space industry” is no doubt eager to open up new frontiers of political influence in order to subsidize their efforts – in the name of “national security,” of course. The Air Force, for its part, fears the addition of yet another rival for funding, one that could be expected to take a big chunk out of their own budget.
One ray of light in an otherwise dark procedure was the victory of two amendments that would prohibit any US involvement in the Saudi war on Yemen. It was a voice vote so we don’t know who voted how. I would expect that this will be stripped out of the reconciled version, but, hey, we celebrate such small victories in lieu of anything better to crow about.
The Trump administration asked for $603 billion in military spending: Congress upped the ante by $37 billion. The Senate version would up it by $40 billion. To update Everett Dirkson, and adjust for inflation: $40 billion here, forty billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about some real money.
I seem to remember then joint chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen telling us that the national debt is the single biggest threat to the security of the United States. Then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the same thing. General Mattis agrees. It would be a typically American form of irony if our bloated-beyond-all-reason “defense” budget turned out to be a major factor in our ultimate undoing.
Around $75 billion is devoted to an “overseas contingency” reserve, i.e. the cost of possible new wars. To say nothing of the costs baked into the “official” budget emanating from our myriad of overseas commitments, from maintaining our far-flung empire of bases to subsidizing our shiftless NATO “allies.”
The burden of empire weighs heavily on our shoulders, and frustration with this state of affairs was expressed by none other than President Donald Trump recently, when he said:
“We have to rebuild our country. Our roads, our bridges, our tunnels, our schools. We will have in another few months, have spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. Seven Trillion. And then if you want to spend two dollars on building a school in Iowa, or in Pennsylvania, or in Florida, they don’t want to give you the money. How ridiculous is this?”
It’s pretty damn ridiculous, but then again it’s no less ridiculous than bombing Syria, threatening Iran, and sending more troops to Afghanistan – all of which have happened since the Trump administration took office. Is Trump campaigning against himself?
We are living under a President who proclaims “America First,” and yet we have a “defense” budget that does everything but defend this country’s borders from attack: our shipping is still as vulnerable as ever, and our borders aren’t any less porous than they were when Trump came to office. Oh, but don’t worry: our service members can change genders at will, and our Space Cadets will soon be bringing democracy to the red plains of Mars.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.