A spirited debate on defense spending broke out on the floor of the House of Representatives this afternoon, as members of Congress closed in on passing the National Defense Authorization Act.
Now, as Congress debates amendments to the NDAA today, in anticipation of tomorrow’s vote on the full package, progressives are making a last-ditch effort to reverse the topline boost — and, going even further, to cut defense-spending levels. Representative Mark Pocan, one of the top congressional proponents of slashing defense spending, offered an amendment to cut the defense budget 10 percent.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke on Pocan’s behalf, going toe-to-toe with House Republicans in a series of short exchanges. Here’s the gist of her argument:
During a time when our country is withdrawing from foreign wars, when COVID-19 and its fallout is one of the greatest threats that we face, when record levels of unemployment, housing, and healthcare crises is among us, the United States should be reducing its military spending by at least 10 percent and prioritize the very needs of our communities here at home.
In remarks a few minutes later, responding to Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, she argued: “It is not the readiness cutting our defense budget threatens; it is the profit margins of the defense contractors.” She pointed to waste at the Pentagon and “spending sprees” that unnecessarily inflate the defense budget. Rogers objected: Congress is actually cutting Pentagon waste and eliminating old weapons systems, and the NDAA does provide housing, health care, and child care for Americans, he said.
Though a proposal to slash defense spending 10 percent in the face of an increasingly belligerent government in Beijing sounds unmoored from reality, the influence of the defense budget-cutters only seems poised to grow. This week, they convinced congressional Democrats to remove a provision providing funding for Iron Dome air-defense batteries in Israel from a broader government-funding bill. Though that funding will likely be approved through a separate bill, the incident hints at where the momentum on defense issues is within the Democratic caucus.
Representative Mike Gallagher echoed some of Rogers’s comments, slamming the effort to cut defense spending as singularly destructive:
Earlier this year, the former head of Indo Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson, warned that the Chinese Communist Party could make a move on Taiwan within the next six years. Within the next six years we could be facing a crisis unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes…
And the idea that we’re going to do an across the board 10 percent cut —an indiscriminate across the board 10 percent cut to the Pentagon — at a time when we’re facing a serious national crisis, I think makes absolutely no sense. The ranking member pointed out the irony and tragedy that the other side is proposing to spend $3.5 trillion on social welfare spending, and then telling us that we have an explosion in defense spending when defense spending as a percentage of GDP is still at lows relative to what we spent during the Cold War.
Ocasio-Cortez and the defense-cuts caucus just aren’t up to the task of grappling with the demands of great-power competition. This amendment is unlikely to win adoption, but their growing influence might well end up having a disastrous impact on U.S. efforts to deter Chinese military aggression.