The bottomless pit of money

When any of the Democratic presidential candidates propose a plan to improve health care, strengthen education, or reduce poverty, they are immediately confronted with a question: How are you going to pay for that?

That's a question that is never asked about the military budget. Yet, in fiscal year 2018, the United States spent more than the next seven countries combined

In fiscal year 2019, the federal deficit increased by 26% to $984 billion. Defense spending accounts for about 50% of discretionary federal spending. 

Now, in fiscal year 2020, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have agreed to spend even more on the military. Negotiators agreed on Monday to a $738 billion defense spending bill, including "$658.4 billion in so-called base budgets, mainly at the Defense and Energy departments, plus an additional $71.5 billion for overseas campaigns." It represents "a $22 billion increase over 2019."

The bill provides billions to purchase military hardware that Trump, who prides himself on inflating the defense budget, didn't even request. For example:

The NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] would authorize 12 more F-35 fighter jets for the U.S. military than the administration requested, for a total of $1 billion. It would authorize $440 million to keep building jets that Turkey was to buy before it was kicked out of the F-35 program for purchasing a Russian air defense system. 

How will Congress pay for the bill? That's a question that is always asked when the government wants to lift people out of poverty, but not when it wants to buy more bombs. 

The House of Representatives is expected to overwhelmingly approve the bill as soon as today.

Carte blanche for war

In 2001, Congress passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to respond to the 9/11 attacks. The next year, it passed another AUMF giving President Bush the green light to declare war on Iraq. 

These AUMFs are nearly two decades old. But they are still being used to justify military interventions in the Middle East. The Trump administration argues these AUMFs gives it the authority to unilaterally declare war on Iran. 

There were proposals in the House to finally repeal the AUMFs:

Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff...offered an amendment to immediately repeal the 2002 AUMF and to sunset the 2001 AUMF effective Sept. 14, 2021, the 20th anniversary of its passage. The amendment also clarifies that the 2001 AUMF does not apply to Iran and provides an expedited procedure for Congress to consider a new AUMF, if needed.

Those provisions, however, were stripped from the language of the bill. The decision to allow the 2001 AUMF to remain in force comes days after documents leaked to the Washington Post revealed that the public has been repeatedly lied to about the Afghanistan war by top officials. 

 "[S]enior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable," the Washington Post reported. 

Fool me once

Congress refused to provide funding for Trump's wall along the southern border, so Trump has diverted funds from military construction programs. The new defense spending bill, however, contains "many of the same type of military construction projects in Eastern Europe that Trump siphoned $3.6 billion from to build barriers along the border with Mexico." The bill is "silent on the president’s diversion of Pentagon money for those barriers," raising the possibility that Trump will divert the funds again. 

Forgetting Yemen

Earlier this year, a bipartisan majority in Congress voted to prohibit Trump from continuing to support the Saudi-led coalition fighting a civil war in Yemen. The Saudi coalition has killed thousands of civilians and is creating an ongoing humanitarian crisis that is putting millions of people in danger. Trump vetoed the bill.

A provision in the House version of the defense spending bill backed by Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) would have "prohibited U.S. military support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen." That provision, however, was negotiated away.

A new branch of the military

The defense spending bill will also create a new "sixth armed service," the Space Force. The creation of a Space Force was a top priority for Trump. The bill creates "a chief of space operations who would sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as an assistant secretary for the Air Force for space acquisition and integration." It is the first time in 70 years that a new branch of the military has been created.

Trump has reportedly "told advisers he wanted to be able to trumpet the creation of the Space Force as part of his reelection bid."

There are some significant limitations. For now, the Space Force won't hire new service members. Instead, it "will have to draw from thousands of military personnel in existing space organizations, including those in the Air Force." 

The silver lining

In exchange for Trump's Space Force, Democrats were able to secure one significant concession. As part of the bill, all non-military federal government employees will be entitled to 12 weeks of paid parental leave. (Members of the military have had paid parental leave since 2016.)

The federal government is the nation's largest employer and the change will benefit 2.1 million people. It is "the first major benefit expansion for federal workers since the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave."

Democrats "wanted to secure paid leave not only for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child, but also to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition or when a family member is deployed for military duty." But the benefit will only be available to new parents. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article included language conflating the defense authorization bill with a separate defense appropriations bill that still needs to be approved.


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