Democrats Help Pass Huge Military Spending Bill, While Other Priorities Languish

Only seven Senate Democrats refused to cooperate with Republicans on Wednesday in approving a huge increase in military spending.

The $717 billion appropriation will provide the Pentagon with more money (in inflation-adjusted terms) than at any time in history other than during the Iraq war, according to The Washington Post. Despite the astronomical cost and other pressing national needs, the legislation passed by a lopsided vote of 87-10.

The only senators who rejected the measure were Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah; independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont; and Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Kamala Harris of California, and Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Last week, 139 Democrats in the House of Representatives joined Republicans to advance the bill, formally called the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. President Trump is almost certain to sign the legislation. Ever since his 2016 campaign, he has pledged to bolster military spending while slashing programs that benefit working and low-income Americans.

The legislation represents a $100 billion raise for the armed forces over their current budget. That is enough money to “make public colleges and universities in the U.S. tuition-free,” The Intercept news site pointed out.

In all, the Pentagon will have nearly $1 trillion to work with next year, more than the next five most militarized nations combined. The total expense of the perpetual warfare the United States is carrying out around the world does not even include expenditures for the CIA and other intelligence agencies, or costs related to veterans.

The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan alone, which began 17 years ago, has sapped more than a trillion dollars from the U.S. Treasury. The results have been not only thousands of deaths and neglected social needs, but also mounting national debt.

Reuters noted that the legislation now headed for the president's desk would do little to address threats posed by one of the country's biggest adversaries, China. The bill, citing national-security concerns, does impose some limits on U.S. government contracts with the Chinese companies ZTE Corp. and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

The provision was not strong enough to satisfy lawmakers who advocated economic sanctions against ZTE, which has violated international agreements by selling goods to North Korea and Iran. Another part of the bill gives the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States more power to control other nations' financial actions in America if their investments compromise national security.

Many Republicans, as well as Democrats, have criticized Trump's repeal of a ban on U.S. companies selling products to ZTE, a telecommunications corporation. The president's remark that he was trying to save Chinese jobs raised more than a few eyebrows.

Among the spending authorizations in the legislation is $7.6 billion for 77 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin Corp. The bill stipulates that the aircraft may not be sold to Turkey, at least for the time being. U.S. officials are upset at the Middle Eastern country for trying to obtain a missile-defense system from Russia, and for holding an American minister hostage.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has come up with some radically different ideas about how Congress should spend taxpayers' money. The group, chaired by Democratic Reps. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, recently issued a list of priorities called The People's Budget.

While the document may appear extreme to some, polls suggest that it reflects the views of most voters. The tax cuts for billionaires and ever-increasing military spending pushed by the Republican-led Congress are extremely unpopular.

A majority of survey respondents have indicated that they are more worried about jobs, which is the No. 1 priority in The People's Budget. Despite glowing economic reports of unemployment dropping to 4 percent, stagnant wages are exacerbating wealth inequality.

Many workers could find better-paying jobs if Congress invested more funds in repairing and rebuilding infrastructure. The People's Budget calls for a 10-year, $2 trillion commitment to upgrading roads, bridges, public transportation, schools and water systems. Another trillion dollars over a decade would finance kindergarten and child care for all, additional resources for K-12 education, free college tuition, and increases in the child tax credit and earned-income tax credit.

The authors of the proposed budget predict that the poverty rate could be cut in half within 10 years by raising the minimum wage, ensuring the right to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining, mandating equal pay for women and providing more funding for welfare programs.

The spending plan demands an expansion of the Affordable Care Act, as well as protections for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Federal funding would be gradually shifted from fossil fuels to alternative energy and efforts to deal with climate change.

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