Divided Congress Unites to Spend $700B on Military and War

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House Democrats and Republicans have approved a nearly $700 billion military spending bill, almost $100 billion more than President Trump and the war profiteers he’s appointed had sought

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AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Maté. The US Congress is as divided as ever, but there is no daylight between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to funding war. The House has just approved a nearly 700 billion dollar Military Spending Bill. That is almost 100 billion dollars more than President Trump had asked for. It will go toward buying even more military war planes, ships and weapons than the Pentagon had requested.

The House vote was an overwhelming 356 to 70 with 127 Democrats voting in favor. A similar measure is expected to pass the Senate, although lawmakers will have to agree on raising the budget cap first.

Joining me is William Hartung, Director of The Arms and Security Project at The Center for International Policy. Welcome, Bill.

So, this vote took place on the same day as the Senate test … Or as the testimony of Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, which drastically overshadowed this story. But this is a pretty big deal. The House voting for a nearly 700 billion dollars in Military spending. Your thoughts on this measure?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, it’s an overwhelming amount of money, one of the highest levels since WWII. Trump’s announcement, that he was gonna increase it by 54 billion dollars back in the Spring, already raised consternation because he’s going to cut, or try to cut domestic programs dollar for dollar for what he’s increasing the Pentagon. That 54 billion was as much as the entire military budgets of allies like Japan, the UK, France, Germany. Now this bigger amount that the Congress wants is well in excess of what any of our allies spend and getting close to what Russia spends for its entire military budget.

It’s a huge amount of money and as you suggested, a lot of it is to buy additional weapons beyond even what the Pentagon asked for. It’s things like more F-35s, which is vastly expensive and which my colleagues at The Project and Government oversight have said is never gonna be ready for combat.

There’s more F18s, not because they’re needed but because there’s a production line in Missouri that members there want to protect because of the jobs in their districts and states. They want to throw more money, billions more, at missile defense, build 28 new ground based interceptors and all kinds of other related missile defense items. There a little bit of money for a mobile ground based nuclear missile, which would violate the intermediate nuclear forces treaty in Europe, if it were to go forward.

They endorse the 1.7 trillion dollar nuclear modernization plan that President Trump inherited from the Obama administration. So, there’s a lot of money sloshing around and very little of it has to do with defending the country. In fact, a lot of it went to new weapons systems, even though they claim the troops need training, we’re not taking care of them. Basically, this is a budget about corporations, not so much about helping the troops.

AARON MATÉ: How does, what is the process there? Where the Pentagon submits a request for a certain amount of F-35 Joint Fighters, then Congress takes that and gives them even more than they asked for?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, Congress has the last word. So, between the authorization process, which is dealt with by the Armed Services Committees, then, the final appropriations process, which is done in appropriations and the Defense Appropriation Subcommittees. Congress can pretty much do what it wants.

The problem they’re facing is there’s caps on the budget under the budget control act. They’ve dealt with prior to that by throwing a bunch of extra money in the War Budget, which is not under the caps. It’s a big slush fund that’s excluded from the caps. But they want so much money that they may not be able to make it work unless they literally lift those caps. That involves a major budget deal with taxes, and entitlements, and so forth.

Given that Trump wants this absurd tax increase that’s mostly going to corporations, it’s possible that process will get derailed. They won’t get quite these huge numbers that they’re aiming for. But that’s all gonna be played out, probably, in the next month or so.

AARON MATÉ: The Military Industrial Complex has always entailed a revolving door between government, military and private military corporations. But I’m wondering if you can comment on its state under President Trump. A number of nominees and appointees come from the military industry. Most recently, Trump nominated John Rood, the Senior Vice President of Lockheed Martin to the third top position at the Pentagon.

Can you talk about some of the people who Trump has appointed from the military industry to be now involved in the military and having a huge influence over spending decisions.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Between Generals and people from the weapons industry, and Generals who come from the weapons industry, Eisenhower would be horrified. This is the Military Industrial Complex not only personified, but intensified. So, you’ve got, for example the top three positions at the Pentagon. General Mattis was at General Dynamics. As you mentioned, the third in charge was at Lockheed Martin. The Secretary of the Army now is from Raytheon, just recently confirmed. The Secretary of the Air Force did questionable lobbying for Lockheed Martin. Basically, no show lobbying that you have to give the money back. The Chief of Staff of The National Security Counsel worked for a Defense Contractor. John Kelley, he’s The White House Chief of Staff.

So, there’s hardly anybody in the top decision making position in the Trump Administration who’s not either a General or from a Weapon’s Contractor, or both. So, they’re not likely to hold the line on Pentagon spending. That’s why it’s kind of amazing that Congress is actually throwing more money at the Pentagon than even this group requested.

AARON MATÉ: There are supposed to be budget caps imposed by Congress to limit military spending. To pass this bill through, they’re gonna have to raise the budget cap by, I believe it’s something like, 80 billion dollars over what is currently allowed. Do you expect that to happen?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: I think they may have a hard time reaching that number. They can throw money in the War Budget and it’s not capped. But they’ve already done that. There’s tens of billions of dollars in the war budget that have nothing to do with fighting wars, that are just things they couldn’t fit under the caps. So, there’s limits to how far they can go with that. They’re gonna have to cut a deal on taxes, and entitlements and overall spending. Kind of a deficit reduction plan. My guess is they’ll get-

AARON MATE: Which means, wait does that mean just cutting money from other areas. Like, I don’t know, Medicaid and other vital services to pay for this?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: They can do it that way if they hit the number that they’re aiming for, which has been, when the bill was passed originally, sort of a trillion dollar reduction over 10 years on both sides of the budget. So, but once they make a deal, sure. They can substitute cuts on the domestic side for increase on the Pentagon side.

They’ve done this before. They’ve made small deals that haven’t completely gotten rid of the caps but have raised them to higher levels. So, my guess is it’ll be something like that. The Pentagon will do fine, if they don’t get every dollar that’s on the table, of course they’re gonna cry poverty. But the Pentagon, there’s no amount of money that would be enough for them, so that’s not really something we should listen to with any seriousness.

AARON MATÉ: When we talk about supporting the troops, it’s just interesting to compare all this money going to programs that, as you mentioned have nothing to do with the troops themselves. Have to do with Weapons Contractors. I’m wondering your thoughts on that, Bill.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: For example, when we had these terrible accidents in the Pacific, where we lost sailors. Some people who have followed this pointed out that there used to be much more rigorous training for the people who ran those ships. They were these months long courses that no longer exist. To do that, cost about 15 million dollars a year, which is a tiny fraction of a percentage of the Pentagon budget.

So, on the one hand, they could spend over the next three decades, 1.7 trillion on nuclear weapons we don’t need. Yet they’re crying that the troops need more training and they’re not spending that money. So, it’s very hypocritical and it’s very much using the troops as a poster child to get more money. As opposed to taking care of the troops, which could be done with a fraction of what the Pentagon wastes on any given day.

AARON MATÉ: William Hartung, Director of The Arms and Security Project at The Center for International Policy, thank you.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes, thank you.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.