When I started talking to colleagues and congressional staff several years ago about the prospects of cutting the Pentagon budget I heard, “when pigs fly.” Since then, Pentagon coffers have steadily swelled.
Last week, the House of Representatives voted on the Defense Appropriations bill. The bill brought to the floor included $519.2 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget (excluding military construction and mandatory spending) with an additional $88.5 billion in war funding. The measure was $3.1 billion above the President’s budget request.
A few hundred amendments were offered. Some of which were aimed a cutting Pentagon fat, others wanted to add more money and others were meant to provide an opportunity to talk on the floor about a particular issue.
Because appropriations bills only allow adding and cutting of funds to authorized programs, it’s difficult to change policy. Hence, some lawmakers use their debate time to talk about policy changes. For example, more than a dozen representatives spoke for 90 minutes to end the war in Afghanistan.
After the first day of hearing the debate and seeing votes, I felt depressed. Small, obvious cuts were being defeated. Rep. McCollum’s (D-MN) amendment cutting military bands a paltry $188 million lost 166-250. Then, a bipartisan amendment offered by Rep. Kingston (R-GA) to cut NASCAR sponsorship by a minuscule (in Pentagon terms) $72.3 failed by a much narrower 202-216.
The next day was looking equally grim. Despite the public being decidedly behind bringing our troops now from Afghanistan, Representatives defeated (107-312) Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) amendment to reduce spending on the Afghanistan war by $19.2 billion leaving enough to safely bring all the troops home. Even a more conservative approach by Rep. Garamendi (D-CA) to cut $12.6 billion for the war accounts went down in flames (137-278).
There was a spark of hope when the House voted for a few amendments that cut several hundred million dollars to various parts of the Afghanistan war.
Not surprisingly, the House defeated two amendments by Rep. Markey (D-MA) that were based from his SANE act, legislation name after one of Peace Action’s predecessors, that would cut $100 billion from nuclear weapons programs over ten years. One amendment would have reduced funding for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system by $75 million (150-268). The other would have limited the fleet of land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) to 300, a cut of 150 (136-283).
Then, the Republicans lead by Reps. Turner (R-OH) and Berg (R-ND) passed amendments to prohibit funds from being used to reduce nuclear forces (235-178) and to prohibit use of funds to reduce the number of nuclear weapons delivery vehicles (232-183).
At the closing hours of the bill, I finally saw pigs fly. Reps. Mulvaney (R-SC) and Frank (D-MA) offered a bi-partisan amendment to cut the overall level of the bill by $1.1 billion, back to last year’s level. The amendment was solidly adopted (247-167).
At the end of last week, the final bill passed by the House was more than $40 billion less than last year. The economic crisis, debt, the ending wars and pressure from you on Congress to cut the bloated Pentagon budget helped make this small but important victory. This bill is only part of the battle and the Senate will need to take up it’s Defense Appropriations likely to happen in the lame duck session after the election.
Take a moment and look at some of the roll call votes and see how your Representative voted. Then, call them this week to thank or spank them for their votes. The Capitol: 202-224-3121.