Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Tuesday made a strong case against the National Defense Authorization bill for the fiscal year 2024 and said he would oppose it.
The $886 billion defense bill is more money than all the other discretionary programs in the federal budget combined, the senator said.
“Unless there are major changes to this bill, I intend to vote against it,” he said.
Laying out his arguments, Sanders highlighted issues the U.S. faces, including climate change. As the country reels under an unprecedented heat wave along with the rest of the world, the need of the hour is investing to transform the energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy, he said.
The senator also said that the U.S. healthcare system is broken. “While the insurance companies and the drug companies make hundreds of billions of dollars in profit, 85 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured,” he said.
He also noted that life expectancy is declining and there is a massive shortage of doctors, nurses, mental health practitioners and dentists.
Sanders called attention to the educational system that is lagging behind many other countries and the inadequate housing stock.
“Almost 18 million people are spending more than half of their limited incomes on housing. Three blocks, just a few blocks away from our nation’s capital Americans are sleeping out on the streets,” he said.
Sanders noted that the proposed military budget the Senate was debating would increase the fed spending by $28 billion to over $886 billion, marking the highest-ever defense spending.
If nuclear weapon spending through the Department of Energy were included the total would exceed well above $900 billion, he said.
“I will oppose this bloated defense budget and efforts to further increase military spending through a defense supplemental bill for three major reasons,” Sanders said.
The $886 billion defense spending agreed in the debt deal matches the Pentagon’s request and therefore the senator does not see the need for more. To make his point, he noted that the U.S. defense spending is more than three times what China spends on its military.
Secondly, Sanders said the Pentagon’s inability to keep track of the dollars leads to massive wasteful and abuse in the sprawling military-industrial complex. The Government Accountability Office reports that the DoD still cannot accurately track its finances or post transactions to the correct accounts, he noted.
He called upon serious efforts to address this before Congress throws more money at the Pentagon.
Thirdly, Sanders said much of this additional military spending will go to line the pockets of hugely profitable defense contractors.
“It is a corporate welfare program by a different name,” he said. He named Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA), Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE:LMT) and RTX Corp. (NYSE:RTN) among the private contractors who exploit their monopoly positions and trust to “fatten their pockets.”
The fact is that a share of the profits from these lucrative contracts will flow back to the congressional backers of higher defense budgets in the form of campaign contributions, he said. “America’s unique system of legalized bribery makes the whole situation even more unconscionable,” he added.
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Edited by Arnab Nandy