Follow us on social

Shutterstock_1023205714-scaled

House votes to put billions more in military spending on the credit card

What would happen if we tied a tax to each budget hike? Don’t ask, it won’t happen.

Analysis | Military Industrial Complex

It’s nearing mid-December, which for many Americans means wrapping up their work for the year and figuring out when, where, and how they’re going to obtain holiday gifts for their loved ones. Unfortunately for those of us whose job it is to follow Congress, the potential flurry of activity for the month is just getting started.

This week on Capitol Hill features votes on two measures that are unrelated at face value but inextricably tied at the hip in practice: an increase in the federal government’s debt ceiling and a final, “compromise” version of the annual defense policy bill (also known as the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA) negotiated between the House and the Senate. As of this writing, the House had passed both measures on Tuesday.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats in Congress really think of defense spending as contributing to the nation’s debt and deficits — even though they should. Unlike some so-called “mandatory” spending programs like Social Security, which are supposed to be self-funding through dedicated revenue streams like the payroll tax, there is no dedicated tax to fund our military budget. And even as federal revenues fall hundreds of billions of dollars short of meeting the government’s spending commitments and choices year after year, lawmakers rubber-stamp multi-billion dollar increases in the defense budget without batting an eye.

Would those big budget increases — which often go to military goodies like the failing F-35 program and an extra Navy destroyer — happen if Congress needed to raise taxes every time they increase the military budget, like they did in 1917 with the War Revenue Act? Maybe, and maybe not.

But that question is somewhat moot because Congress has been putting those military budget increases on the taxpayer’s credit card for years now. I have previously written in these pages that, since January 2012, Congress and presidents of both parties have authorized more than $1.3 trillion in military spending than they were supposed to under Budget Control Act automatic spending caps. About $439 billion of that $1.3 trillion was due to Congress raising the spending caps on a bipartisan basis, with political wins for Republicans (in the form of higher military spending) and Democrats (in the form of higher non-military spending) over the years. The other $880 billion was above and beyond the caps, for a so-called Overseas Contingency Operations account that started as a war funding mechanism and turned into a slush fund for irresponsible military budget plus-ups.

That $1.3 trillion in additional military spending over the last decade is partly responsible for the debt ceiling mess Congress finds itself in, brushing up again and again (78 times since 1960) on the deadlines and limits they set for the debt.

This brings us to a big irony in this week’s action on Capitol Hill. For a time, lawmakers were contemplating tying the debt limit and the NDAA together and forcing one vote in either the House, the Senate, or both chambers of Congress. The political calculation? Democrats who may be uneasy about sky-high defense spending might vote for the package because they don’t want the U.S. to default on its debt, and Republicans holding out on the debt ceiling might vote for the package (or at least allow it to move forward without blocking further congressional action) out of support for higher military spending.

Congressional leaders ultimately abandoned that approach, instead tying the debt ceiling increase to another politically sensitive matter: impending automatic cuts to Medicare spending. Both this measure and the NDAA passed the House and are expected to clear the Senate. But the episode should shine a spotlight on an uncomfortable truth too few members of Congress are willing to confront: big military budgets are not automatically paid for, and when not paid for they contribute to the debt.

With 2022 just around the bend, a lot of folks are no doubt thinking about renewal and about New Year’s resolutions. Here’s one for Congress: consider a menu of bold military budget cuts next year. My organization, the National Taxpayers Union, has put out a $338 billion roadmap. Defense Priorities hosted an entire symposium on how to achieve $1 trillion in military spending cuts over the course of 10 years, with work from experts across the ideological spectrum. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has envisioned how the military could adapt to a smaller budget in a number of ways. And CBO also puts out an excellent and semi-regular primer on deficit reduction options in the military (and elsewhere in the federal budget).

The options are out there, but it’s going to take some political will on Capitol Hill. As Congress votes for more defense spending and greenlights more debt for 2022 this week, it’s time lawmakers see the irony in this series of votes and resolve to do something about it.

Image: Black Creator 24 via shutterstock.com
Analysis | Military Industrial Complex
US aid from pier in Gaza looted, none distributed so far
US military releases photos of pier to deliver aid to Gaza (Reuters)

US aid from pier in Gaza looted, none distributed so far

QiOSK

Last week, the U.S. military finally completed a long-awaited temporary pier to bring aid into Gaza, which American officials hope will alleviate the famine gripping the besieged region. There’s just one catch: None of that aid has actually been distributed to starving Palestinians.

After desperate locals looted an initial convoy of aid Saturday, officials have had to rethink their approach to distributing the life-saving supplies. The shipments are now headed to a warehouse from which they will be distributed to humanitarian groups “in the coming days,” a Pentagon spokesperson said Tuesday. (“Conditions permitting,” he added, in an apparent reference to the fact that the pier can only operate in exceptionally calm waters.)

keep readingShow less
GOP reps want same benefits for Americans serving in Israel army

Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., wearing his Israeli Defense Forces uniform, on Capitol Hill, Oct. 13, 2023. (X post)

GOP reps want same benefits for Americans serving in Israel army

QiOSK

In what might sound like something out of Louis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, or for the more modern twist, Seinfeld's Bizarro World, two Republican congressmen have introduced legislation that would extend the same employment protections to Americans serving in the Israeli army as Americans who leave work and home to serve the U.S. military.

In other words, no different than U.S. National Guardsman or Reservists, they are just fighting for another country.

keep readingShow less
The passing of a Republican anti-war, anti-AIPAC fighter

Former U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey walks with surfer Joao Demacedo along a private road to Martin's Beach, a popular surfing and fishing spot, in Half Moon Bay, California March 14, 2013.The tiny beach south of San Francisco has become the latest in a series of clashes over technology titans' property, underscoring the tendency of Silicon Valley movers and shakers to try to impose their influence beyond their offices and onto their neighbors. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The passing of a Republican anti-war, anti-AIPAC fighter

Washington Politics

From Richard Nixon to the Israel lobby, the late Republican Congressman Paul Norton “Pete” McCloskey Jr. challenged the most powerful elements of the ruling class on the American people’s behalf.

On September 29, 1927, McCloskey was born in San Bernardino, California. He was raised in South Pasadena. After graduating high school in 1945, McCloskey joined the Navy and attended Occidental College as well as the California Institute of Technology. In 1950, he graduated from Stanford with a Bachelor’s degree.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest