By Sen. Bernie Sanders
Editor’s note: The following is Sen. Sanders prepared remarks June 25, ahead of the Senate’s consideration of a proposed $740.5 billion military budget authorization. Sanders’ amendment to the National Defense Authorization.
Mr. President, if there was ever a moment in American history when we needed to fundamentally alter our national priorities, now is that time.
Whether it is fighting against systemic racism and police brutality, transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel, ending a cruel and dysfunctional healthcare system or addressing the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in our country – now is the time for change, real change.
And when we talk about real change it is incredible to me the degree to which Congress continues to ignore our bloated $740 billion defense budget – which has gone up by over $100 billion since Trump has been in office.
Year after year Democrats and Republicans, who disagree on almost everything, come together with minimal debate to support an exploding Pentagon budget which is now higher than the next 11 nations combined, and represents more than half of our discretionary spending.
Incredibly, after adjusting for inflation, we are now spending more on the military than we did during the height of the Cold War or during the wars in Vietnam and Korea.
This extraordinary level of military spending comes at a time when the Department of Defense is the only agency of our federal government that has not been able to pass an independent audit, when defense contractors are making enormous profits while paying their CEOs exorbitant compensation packages, and when the so-called “War on Terror” will end up costing us some $6 trillion.
I believe this is a moment in history when it would be a good idea for all of my colleagues, and the American people, to remember what former Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1953. And, as we all recall, Eisenhower was a four star general who led the Allied Forces to victory in Europe during World War II. Eisenhower said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
What Eisenhower said was true 67 years ago, and it is true today.
If the horrific pandemic we are now experiencing has taught us anything it is that national security means a lot more than building bombs, missiles, jet fighters, tanks, submarines, nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction. National security also means doing everything we can to improve the lives of our people, many of whom have been abandoned by our government decade after decade.
In order to begin the process of transforming our national priorities I have filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act with Senator [Ed] Markey to reduce the military budget by 10% and use the $74 billion in savings to invest in distressed communities around the country that have been ravaged by extreme poverty, mass incarceration, deindustrialization and decades of neglect.
At a time when more Americans have died from the coronavirus than were killed fighting in World War I, when over 30 million Americans have lost their jobs in recent months, when tens of millions of Americans are in danger of being evicted from their homes, when education in America from childcare to graduate school is in desperate need of reform, when half a million Americans are homeless, and when close to 100 million people are either uninsured or under-insured — now is the time to invest in our people — in jobs, education, housing and healthcare here at home.
Under this amendment, distressed cities and towns in every state in the country would be able to use these funds to create jobs by building affordable housing, schools, childcare facilities, community health centers, public hospitals, libraries, sustainable energy projects, and clean drinking water facilities.
These communities would also receive federal funding to hire more public school teachers, provide nutritious meals to children and parents and offer free tuition at public colleges, universities or trade schools.
Mr. President, at this pivotal moment in American history, we have to make a fundamental decision. Do we want to spend billions more on endless wars in the Middle East, or do we want to provide decent jobs to millions of unemployed Americans here at home? Do we want to spend more money on nuclear weapons or do we want to invest in decent jobs and childcare and healthcare for the American people most in need?
Mr. President, when we analyze the Defense Department budget it is interesting to note that Congress has appropriated so much money for the Defense Department that the Pentagon literally does not know what to do with it. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), between 2013 and 2018 the Pentagon returned more than $80 billion in funding back to the Treasury.
In my view, the time is long overdue for us to take a hard look not only at the size of the Pentagon budget, but at the enormous amount of waste, cost overruns, fraud, and at the financial mismanagement that has plagued the Department of Defense for decades.
Mr. President, let’s be clear. About half of the Pentagon’s budget goes directly into the hands of private contractors, not our troops.
And, over the past two decades, virtually every major defense contractor in the United States has paid millions of dollars in fines and settlements for misconduct and fraud – all while making huge profits on those government contracts.
Since 1995, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and United Technologies have paid over $3 billion in fines or related settlements for fraud or misconduct. Yet, those three companies received around $1 trillion in defense contracts over the past two decades alone.
Further, Mr. President, I find it interesting that the very same defense contractors that have been found guilty or reached settlements for fraud are also paying their CEOs excessive compensation packages.
Last year, the CEOs of Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman both made over $20 million in total compensation while around 90% of the companies’ revenue came from defense contracts. In other words, these companies for all intent and purposes are governmental agencies where the CEOs make over a hundred times more than the Secretary of Defense. It’s not too surprising, therefore, that we have a revolving door where our military people end up on the boards of directors of these major defense companies.
Moreover, Mr. President, as the GAO has told us, there are massive cost overruns in the Defense Department’s acquisition budget that we have got to address.
According to GAO, the Pentagon’s $1.8 trillion acquisition portfolio currently suffers from more than $628 billion in cost overruns with much of the cost growth taking place after production.
GAO tells us that “many DoD programs fall short of cost, schedule, and performance expectations, meaning DoD pays more than anticipated, can buy less than expected, and, in some cases, delivers less capability to the warfighter.”
Mr. President, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan concluded in 2011 that $31-$60 billion spent in Iraq and Afghanistan had been lost to fraud and waste.
Separately, in 2015, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that the Pentagon could not account for $45 billion in funding for reconstruction projects.
And more recently, an audit conducted by Ernst & Young for the Defense Logistics Agency found that it could not properly account for some $800 million in construction projects.
Mr. President, that is unacceptable.
I believe in a strong military. But we cannot keep giving more money to the Pentagon than it needs when millions of children in this country are food insecure and 140 million Americans can’t afford the basic necessities of life without going into debt.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
The time is long overdue to listen to Dr. King.
At a time when, in the richest country in the history of the world, half of our people are struggling paycheck to paycheck, when over 40 million Americans are living in poverty, and when over 500,000 Americans are homeless, we are approaching spiritual death.
At a time when we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on earth, and when millions of Americans are in danger of going hungry, we are approaching spiritual death.
At a time when over 60,000 Americans die each year because they can’t afford to get to a doctor on time, and one out of five Americans can’t afford the prescription drugs their doctors prescribe, we are approaching spiritual death.
Now, at this moment of unprecedented national crisis, it is time to rethink what we value as a society and to fundamentally transform our national priorities.
Now at this moment of unprecedented national crises – a growing pandemic, an economic meltdown, the demand to end systemic racism and police brutality, and an unstable president – it is time for us to truly focus on what we value as a society and to fundamentally transform our national priorities.
Cutting the military budget by 10% and investing that money in human needs is a modest way to begin that process.
And as President Eisenhower said as he left office in 1961: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.