An Expanding Military Budget Taxpayers Can't Afford

by Bernie Sanders, The Boston Globe, May 20, 2008


Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and 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." -President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953.

During the next few weeks Congress will consider hundreds of billions of dollars in military spending, yet this legislation will receive relatively little review and scrutiny. Spending by Pentagon officials continues to grow at an incredible rate and it is time for Congress to determine whether this level of funding makes sense.President Eisenhower, the five-star Army general who was the military commander of the European theater during World War II, laid out stark choices that he and the country faced during his first year in the White House. Fast-forward 48 years to the last year of George W. Bush's presidency, and it is remarkable how prescient Eisenhower was.

Today, Bush's military budget is $515 billion, more than half of all discretionary spending. This is in addition to the $200 billion a year being spent on the war in Iraq, and another $16 billion spent on nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, as military spending explodes, the middle class in America is shrinking, poverty is increasing and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider. While we now spend $94 billion more on defense than three years ago, poverty and hunger are increasing, 47 million Americans lack health insurance, and an entire generation of young people wonders how to afford college.

In his last budget, Bush provided a very generous increase in funds for the military while proposing major cuts in programs which benefit low- and moderate-income families. At a time of real threat from international terrorism, all of us understand the need for a strong military to protect our country. However, the Pentagon cannot be exempt from Congress' oversight responsibility to root out waste, fraud, and abuse.

Here are just a few examples that Congress must explore if we are serious about saving taxpayer dollars:

The Government Accountability Office recently assessed 72 major weapons acquisition programs and reported a colossal $295 billion in cost-overruns on a $1.6 trillion contract portfolio.

One item - the Army's Future Combat Systems - may cost the taxpayer more than $200 billion, a staggering $40 billion cost overrun from initial 2003 estimates.

The total cost for the F-22A fighter program, a Cold War legacy, amounts to an astronomical $65.3 billion, so large that the Air Force has been forced to reduce its buy from 648 to 183 aircrafts. Still, that amounts to about $355 million a piece.

There also has been enormous waste and fraud by contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was recently discovered that a 22-year-old businessman sold as much as $300 million in old ammunition (much of it defective) to the Afghan army and police forces under a contract with the Army Sustainment Command. Millions of cartridges were shipped from China, making their procurement a possible violation of US law.

In Ramadi, Iraq, the Air Force paid a private US contractor $32 million to construct an air base that was never built.

A GAO survey examined $8 billion in contractor incentive fees that were paid out regardless of outcome. In other words, the Pentagon is paying contractors bonuses whether or not they are deserved.

Not only did Eisenhower vigorously fight against misplaced national priorities and overspending on the military, he also understood why that happened. In a 1961 speech, as he was leaving office, he said, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

At a time when this country has a $9.3 trillion national debt, a declining economy, and enormous unmet needs, the time is long overdue for Congress to stop rubber-stamping White House requests for military spending and to address the Pentagon's needs within the context of our overall national priorities.


Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, is a member of the Budget Committee.

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