Congress is set to pass a spending bill about $40 billion more than the one approved last year.
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After the United States military stopped fighting wars in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, Congress went on to appropriate less funding for defense in subsequent years. But now that the US has pulled out of Afghanistan, ending the longest war in American history, it seems unlikely that the pattern will repeat itself.
With the House set to vote on a defense policy bill this week, Congress is preparing to increase the Pentagon budget in fiscal year 2021-22 to around $740 billion, a figure that surpasses President Joe Biden’s request by roughly $25 billion. That would be nearly $37 billion more than Congress approved in Donald Trump’s last year in office.
When Biden issued his budget proposal in April, he requested $715 billion for the Pentagon, a slight increase over last year’s $704 billion budget. This increase—at a time when Biden’s party controls both the House and Senate—is a reminder of how bipartisan support for more military spending is one of the only things you can predict in Washington.
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“One would think that ending America’s longest war would reap more savings,” Erica Fein, senior Washington director at the progressive advocacy group Win Without War, told me. “It remains especially egregious that in the middle of a pandemic, official Washington finds spending three-quarters-of-a-trillion-dollars on the Pentagon acceptable.”
The House panel that marks up the annual defense policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), adopted the higher price tag in a near-unanimous vote. Only two Democrats, Reps. Sara Jacobs (Calif.) and Ro Khanna (Calif.), voted against the measure.
Originally, House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) had introduced an overall spending figure more in line with Biden’s request, but Republicans rejected it. The Democrats could have forced through the smaller number, but enough moderate Democrats joined Republicans in pushing for the $25 billion increase that the committee’s legislation quickly mirrored the Senate Armed Services panel’s spending figure, which passed in a similarly lopsided vote. Only Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) opposed it.
Once Congress debates and eventually passes a defense policy bill this month, the House and Senate will hash out a compromise bill that seems primed to include that $25 billion increase. Progressive Democrats, who were not exactly thrilled with Biden’s more-modest funding increase, are outraged about the much higher figure—and have taken their fight to the House floor, where lawmakers are debating a slate of amendments this week, including proposals to cut the overall spending figure.