The culture wars have come to U.S. military policy, and the price could be far higher than any of us can afford. Rather than a serious debate over military spending and foreign policy, we’re being subjected to a right-wing circus performance.
The annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, lays out how the military budget—$886.3 billion for this coming year—will be spent. There are few pieces of legislation with more significant consequences for U.S. taxpayers or the world.
Members of Congress frequently opine that passing this legislation is one of their most important jobs—but just as important should be getting it right. With war, peace, and nearly $1 trillion on the line, the stakes are too high to mess this up.
Against all common sense, earlier this month, Republican representatives came at this all-important legislation with one clear set of goals in mind. It wasn’t a clear focus on how the military with the world’s largest budget and greatest number of overseas bases could ensure peace and avoid new wars in a century where the United States is unlikely to remain the sole superpower. It wasn’t shameful price gouging by Pentagon contractors, even though those contractors account for hundreds of billions of dollars—roughly half of the Pentagon budget.
And it wasn’t the fact that Congress has abdicated its constitutional war powers authority for more than twenty years, leaving any current or future president a galaxy-size loophole to engage the country in military conflict without consulting Congress. That’s despite legislators ranging from the right-wing Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, to the left-leaning Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, calling to close that loophole.
Instead, Republicans have focused on cutting off access to abortion for military troops and families. They tried to eliminate health care options for transgender service members or family members. And they took a blowtorch to anything resembling racial diversity initiatives in the military, with one Republican slipping into using segregation-era language about “colored people.”
In doing so, they displayed their contempt for service members who are trans or have a trans family member, or those who may have found value in diversity initiatives or training, or those who have a uterus.
But they also displayed their contempt for the fiscal responsibility they claim to hold dear, which is being flaunted daily by a Pentagon that continues to reward price-gouging contractors and that has never managed to pass a financial audit. Nor was there any focus on the sheer size of the Pentagon budget, which accounts for more than half of annual discretionary spending.
A groundbreaking amendment from Representatives Lee, Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, and others that would have cut the Pentagon budget by $100 billion—returning it to the levels of just a few years ago—didn’t even receive a vote. That’s despite polling showing that a majority of voters are concerned about military spending and support reallocating some of those funds.
Republican leaders also acquiesced to our forever wars and the executive overreach they claim to oppose. Despite bipartisan support for the idea, multiple amendments to revoke war authorizations going back twenty years or longer were left on the cutting room floor, giving future presidents a free pass to use them to start new wars.
It’s not the first time that Congress has flagrantly ignored what should be their highest priorities in this bill—keeping the peace and protecting taxpayers. But at least in past years, there was debate and voting on the issues of war budgets and war powers.
This year, far-right lawmakers decided those issues weren’t even worth debating. The final bill passed the House of Representatives by the narrowest of margins, 219-210, on a near-party-line vote. The U.S. Senate is now taking up its own version.
This is no way to handle global superpower status, the largest military in the world nor hard-earned taxpayer dollars.
The Republican culture wars have already come for the most vulnerable among us. Now that they’ve hijacked the debate over nearly $1 trillion and made wars more likely, it’s even more clear just how unaffordable this business is.