No matter which party is in power, the U.S. federal military budget continues to increase year after year. President Joe Biden’s $782 billion budget for fiscal year 2022, which started October 1, 2021, was just passed by Congress. It includes billions for Ukraine, more billions for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and is $25 billion more than the Pentagon even asked for.
Now Biden has submitted his budget for fiscal year 2023 and it’s $813 billion. Congress appears never to have encountered a weapons system it doesn’t like and vote for. However, the Biden budget does cut funding for the F-35 fighter jet, which over the course of its decades-long life would rack up over a trillion dollars in expenditures.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Lindsay Koshgarian, program director of the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Here she runs down the numbers on recent Pentagon budgets and efforts to direct more federal funding to human needs.
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: The president’s request is for fiscal year 2023, which begins on Oct. 1 of this year. So Congress just passed a $782 billion military budget, and President Biden is requesting for next year an $813 billion military budget. So that increase is significant. It’s about $30 billion, and just for reference, that is twice the amount of additional Covid aid that Congress just stripped from the budget they passed for the current fiscal year, and that Covid aid would have been for things like antibody treatments, antivirals, testing, vaccine, because as we know the pandemic is not yet over, but those are the things we need to bring it to an end.
MELINDA TUHUS: So, we’re funding death instead of life, I guess is what you’re saying. Also, that’s a very interesting comparison of numbers in that regard. But I’m also wondering, how does the current budget or the one Biden just proposed, compare to funding for the Vietnam War at its height?
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: The budget that Biden just proposed is higher than military spending at the height of the Vietnam War, and higher than the peak of the Cold War under President Reagan, which was a tremendous years of military build-up during the 1980s. That is adjusted for inflation.
MELINDA TUHUS: What are some of the big ticket items that are included in this budget that Biden is asking for?
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: The vast majority of the budget Biden is requesting is for the Department of Defense. But every year in recent years, about half and often over half of the Department of Defense budget has gone to for-profit contractors. So a huge part of what he’s asking for would go to contractors, to line their bottom line. In fact, they recognize this, that every time the military budgets go up, so do their bottom lines. So do their profits. So do their shareholders gain value and things like that. And recently with the Ukraine crisis, we have seen so-called defense stocks’ value just shoot sky high. So they are having a moment right now. There are also some incremental increases in things like benefits in housing for troops which are necessary, but that is not the majority of what is going into this budget.
A big part of it is also going toward a planned reinvestment in nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons delivery systems, and that plan has gone back to at least the Obama years; they call it nuclear modernization. And so it’s doubling down on nuclear weapons when we can clearly see with the threats coming from Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons that the world desperately needs to move toward denuclearization, so this is moving absolutely in the wrong direction.
MELINDA TUHUS: The U.S. spends more than, I think, the next 11 nations on the military, including Russia, including China. Do I have that right?
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: We spend more than the next 11 nations, and we spend 12 times more than Russia, so given that conflict is in the forefront of people’s minds right now, that’s a fact worth knowing. Russia is in a very different place with their military investment than we are; they are doing some of the same types of new nuclear weapons that the U.S. recently started a program for — what they call tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons, that are slightly smaller nuclear weapons than the big ones that we hear and think about most, but they are still nuclear weapons. Russia has some of those, so they are doing some of the same things.
MELINDA TUHUS: And it seems like – I don’t know if this is a long-term habit – but it seems like Congress is at least as likely to increase the amount as to give Biden what he’s asking for. Do you foresee that in this budget as well, because that’s what happened in the current year’s budget.
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Yes, absolutely. That is what happened last year: Biden requested a certain amount, and Congress added to it, and then added to it some more. And that is a pattern.
MELINDA TUHUS: What can people do who think this is not, according to your organization, National Priorities, shouldn’t be the priority by such a huge amount? What can people do?
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Well, you need to call your member of Congress. They really do respond to constituent input. So you need to call them and call them again. If you can, ask for a meeting, that’s great. But phone calls are terrific; they’re probably better than emails or other methods of reaching out. You can write local op-eds or letters to the editor if you’re feeling particularly motivated. That’s very helpful when members of Congress see issues in their home district news media. And another thing you can do is support the efforts – there are a lot of groups working on this that have growing power. One is the Poor People’s Campaign. Another is a coalition called the People Over Pentagon Coalition that we’re part of.
For more information, visit the National Priorities Project at nationalpriorities.org.