While the world continues to be transfixed over the gruesome images coming from the border, business went on as usual in Washington. Earlier this week, the Senate quietly passed the $716 billion “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.”
The bill, which passed 85-10 in a massive show of bipartisan support, represents a considerable boost in defense spending across the board – roughly $82 billion just for next year.
The bill is a major win for Trump, who has made no secret about his desire to push through giant increases in military spending. The legislation even sends the U.S. down the road to meeting the Trump administration’s lunatic goal of developing smaller, more “flexible” (read: usable) nuclear weapons, as it includes $65 million for the development of a new, lower-yield, submarine-launched nuke.
But the problem with the defense bill, at least in terms of attracting coverage, is that it’s also a big win for almost every other major political constituency in Washington.
Spending on defense lobbying has actually been dropping slightly in recent years, but that may only be because the opposition to defense spending has become so anemic that lobbyists don’t really need to bother anymore. Historically, both parties reflexively vote to increase the defense budget, and there was not much #resistance in Congress on this issue. Opposition even to the bill’s quirks was limited, and overall opposition to the huge increase in spending was virtually nonexistent outside a few voices.
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Rhode Island’s Jack Reed tried to introduce an amendment blocking the spending on the new low-yield nuke. But Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, filling in for McCain as the chair of the Armed Services Committee, put a stop to that.
Twenty-eight years ago, Congress passed a bill requiring federal agencies to pass financial audits. But the Department of Defense hasn’t bothered, not once. Along with Utah’s Mike Lee and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, Bernie Sanders introduced an amendment that would have forced the DOD to conduct a successful audit by 2022.
The proposed penalty was pocket change by DOD standards – the government would have redirected $100 million in defense spending to deficit reduction – but the amendment was killed.
Sanders, Lee, and Connecticut’s Chris Murphy also tried to introduce an amendment preventing U.S. military planes from refueling Saudi coalition bombers in the campaign against Yemen, which, by some estimates has killed over 10,000 civilians and displaced over 3 million.
The amendment, too, was killed.
The ease with which this massive spending increase passed exposes all the howling we always get from think-tanks and the press whenever any ambitious social program is proposed. It’s all bunk – all of it.
Ask experts how much it would cost to make higher education at public colleges and universities free, and you’ll get some big numbers. You will also hear strident opposition in op-ed pages to how “unrealistic” the idea is, even though most free-ed proposals would fit easily into an $80 billion-per-year outlay.
Nobody ever calls massive increases in military spending “unrealistic.” Not even when Donald Trump wants them.