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No help for the poor but funds for war: Americans overwhelmingly support cutting the Pentagon budget

Anti-war groups vowed to keep fighting to slash the bloated Pentagon budget after the House of Representatives on July 21 to reject a proposal to cut U.S. military spending by 10% and invest the savings in housing, healthcare, and education in poor communities.

The United States is a world leader in new coronavirus cases, unemployment remains sky-high, and COVID testing and protective gear for health workers are scarce once more. But instead of sending desperately needed help, Congress is prepared to send $740 billion to the Pentagon.

These priorities are desperately out of touch, and Americans know it. A new Data for Progress poll shows that more than half of Americans support cutting 10 percent of the Pentagon budget — worth $74 billion — to pay for things like the coronavirus response, health care, education, and housing. While 69 percent of Democrats supported such a cut, so did 50 percent of Republicans.

The final vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendment sponsored by Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) was 93-324, with 139 Democrats joining 185 Republicans in voting no. The failure of the Lee-Pocan amendment means the final version of the House NDAA will propose a $740.5 military budget for fiscal year 2021, a more than $2 billion increase from the previous year.

“Ninety-three members of Congress stood together to oppose a bloated $740 billion defense budget,” Representative Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted after the vote. “Though our amendment didn’t pass, progressive power is stronger than ever. We will keep fighting for pro-peace, pro-people budgets until it becomes a reality.”

Today’s Pentagon budget is higher than it was during the peak of the Cold War. If this spending were necessary to guarantee our security, that would be one thing. Instead, in 2019, more than $370 billion — half of the Pentagon budget — went to commercial contractors.

We have over-invested in the Pentagon and underinvested in everything else — and it shows in our country’s pandemic response. The Pentagon budget is more than 100 times the budget of the Centers for Disease Control. The contracts awarded to just one company, Lockheed Martin, were worth more than seven times the entire budget of the CDC.

A 10 percent cut to the Pentagon would come from a multitude of places, including a halt to our never-ending wars in the Middle East, reducing our reliance on nuclear weapons, and turning off the spigot to arms contractors.

All this would be worth doing even if we did not need the money so badly elsewhere. But while it is a drop in the bucket to the Pentagon, that $74 billion would be a giant windfall to many critical government programs.

For just 10 percent of the Pentagon budget, we could house every homeless person in the United States— or buy enough N95 protective face masks for every essential worker in the country to use one every day for a year. For a fraction of that $74 billion, we could multiply the CDC budget several times over.

Unfortunately, politicians on both sides of the aisle have unquestioningly sent hundreds of billions of dollars to the Pentagon for year after year. But now, at a time of such desperate need in our country, this cut should be an easy decision. This shift in spending has support from Americans of every political persuasion. It is time to reinvest in what really keeps us safe.

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