With little debate or public attention, the Senate just followed the House in approving $717 billion for the nation’s military, meaning the bill is headed for the president’s signature. The passage is no surprise. The National Defense Authorization Act is one of the few pieces of federal budget legislation that sails through every year, without fail, on a bipartisan basis.
Yet, the bill deserves fierce debate—and dissent. At $717 billion, the package provides a historically high military budget. By my calculations based on numbers from the Office of Management and Budget, in 1997, after Cold War spending was ratcheted down from its Reagan-era peak, military spending was $386 billion after adjusting for inflation. By the height of spending during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it had more than doubled to $799 billion. Yet today, despite massive troop drawdowns and multiple declarations of victoryfrom the war on terror, military spending in 2019 will remain $268 billion more than it was before the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
In other words, U.S. war spending remains severely bloated, as spending on vital public goods—like education and water systems—falters.