House Passes $608 Billion Military Spending Bill
By Matt Southworth on 07/18/2012 @ 11:15 AM
This week, the House will begin to consider a bill, H.R. 5658, worth around $607.7 billion in funding for the Pentagon and U.S. war in Afghanistan—all for just one year. Some $519.2 billion is poised to be appropriated for the Pentagon’s “base budget” and some $88.5 billion for U.S. wars—a little known fact: there is $2.9 billion in funding for Operation New Dawn, also known as the war in Iraq.
According to the New Priorities Project, just one year of Pentagon spending (based on fiscal year 2012 enacted) could provide 69 million college scholarships or provide VA care for 69.8 million veterans. Yet, against all reason, the House will pass this fiscal year 2013 Defense Appropriations bill. It is as of yet unclear if the Senate will finish its Defense Appropriations by the end of this fiscal year (September 30th) or even at all. Congress is too defunct to finish these most fundamental of congressional responsibilities these days.
Earlier this year, the House debated and passed the fiscal year 2013 Defense Authorization bill (National Defense Authorization Act, NDAA). So what is the difference and why have two bills? The NDAA sets caps on spending, authorizes new programs and makes permanent law, whereas the Defense Appropriations bill is literally “money in the bank.” Without appropriations—by way of this bill, a continuing resolution (CR), omnibus, minibus or megabus—departments, including the Pentagon, do not have funding to operate.
At FCNL, we oppose all money to prepare for or fight wars. We should also stay engaged within the process to be effective and support amendments that chip away at this funding bill. Calling for a blanket “no” vote on the whole bill would only marginalize us as advocates. Our faith leads us to urge members to vote no on this bill. Our strategic focus encourages us to also focus on amendments.
In that context, here are a few amendments we expect:
- Rep. Mick Mulvaney (SC) and Rep. Barney Frank (MA) will offer an amendment to cut $1.1 billion from the bill, effectively freezing funding at FY12 levels. (Update: Adopted 247-167)
- Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) and others will offer an amendment to cut $7.5 billion from the bill to bring the total amount in line with Budget Control Act. (Update: Failed 171-243)
- Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) will offer an amendment to cut $19.2 billion from the bill to bring overall spending down to $500 billion. (Update: Failed 87-326)
- Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) will offer an amendment to cut $21 billion from Overseas Contingency Operation (war funding) to effect a safe and responsible end the U.S. war in Afghanistan. This dollar amount is what the Congressional Research Service (CRS) suggests is necessary to end the war. (Update: Failed 107-312)
- Rep. Ed Markey (MA) will offer an amendment to cut the nuclear weapons budget by $75 million, focused on the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) ballistic missile defense system. (Update: Failed 150-268)
- Rep. Steve Cohen (TN) will offer an amendment to reduce the $375 million reqeust for the Afghanistan Infrastructure fund (a military run and administered fund for military construction projects in Afghansitan) by $175 million. (Update: Adopted 228-191)
There will undoubtedly be a number of other amendments—I know of several related to the war in Afghanistan, for instance. Members are not required to pre-file and all amendments deemed “germane” (in order) will be allowed. The bill is several hundred pages long and amendments are generally considered in the order of the bill.
Frankly, it is a certainty this bill will pass. It is likely that many of these amendments will fail. Yet that doesn’t mean advocates and activists alike should not work on these efforts and support legislators that attempt to rein in Pentagon spending or end the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
Rep. Barbara Lee has offered some iteration of the amendment she will offer to end the war in Afghanistan for several years on almost every Defense Authorization and Appropriations bill. A similar measure failed 113-303 during the NDAA debate this year. According to just about all legitimate coverage of the war, Rep. Lee is correct to try to bring it to a close. As summarized by Dexter Filkins recently in his New Yorker article, the U.S. strategy rests on expectations that are nearly impossible to meet in the short or long term.
Ultimately, the reason I believe we all need to work on these bills comes down to political leverage, of which the peace community has very little. At a time when the mere threat of defense industry pink slips sends shock waves through Washington and senators openly solicit the defense industry to jump in the political fray on Pentagon cuts, we—the peace community—must use our collective majority opinion to better influence policy outcomes. That is to say, we cannot afford to stand on the sidelines out of principle to only create the conditions needed for powerful industries to dictate policy.
We must be in the halls and offices of Congress, we must ask the tough questions when members hit the campaign trail, and we must vote and encourage others to vote as well. Building capacity to influence and leverage our political power might be the best way to achieve the policies we seek.
Update: On July 18th, while debating this bill on the House floor, members of Congress spoke for over 90 minutes in fervent opposition to the war in Afghanistan. This was possibly the most powerful display to date of congressional opposition to the war. See excerpts from the powerful speeches.
This Bill passed the House on July 19th by a vote of 329-90. The final amount of funding passed was roughly $606 billion, less than proposed in the bill, but more than the caps set by the Budget Congrol Act.