Robert Reich: Military Bloat Versus Unnecessary Misery – OpEd


Congress is on track in the coming week to give final approval to a national military budget for the fiscal year that is expected to reach about $858 billion — or $45 billion more than President Biden had requested and 8 percent more than last year. 

This is its highest level of military spending (adjusted for inflation) since the peaks in the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between 2008 and 2011. It’s the second-highest military spending since World War II. It’s more than the budgets for the next 10 largest cabinet agencies combined. It’s larger than the military spending of the next 10 largest military powers in the world combined. 

Expect it to be even more. Congress is considering an extra $21.7 billion for the Pentagon to resupply materials used in Ukraine.

Don’t fall for the myth that this humongous sum is going to our troops. What’s spiking is spending on weapons (including a 55 percent jump in Army funding for new missiles and a 47 percent jump for the Navy’s weapons purchases). 

All told, more than half of this giant spending budget is going to for-profit companies (such as Lockheed, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, BAE, and Northrop Grumman) whose stock prices are surging. The profits are going into executive pay, shareholder dividends, and stock buybacks. 

This is the military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned of — on steroids. 

And yet, there’s almost no debate. Most Americans aren’t aware of what’s happening. And many of those who do know aren’t tracking the humongous size of this relative to previous military spending. And no one is hearing any arguments on the other side.

Yes, of course, America has to worry about Putin, China, Iran, and North Korea. But before deciding to spend so much, we might at least expect some, er, discussion. 

How on Earth are we supposed to believe we “can’t afford” paid family leave, an expanded child tax credit, Medicare for all, or universal pre-K when our politicians are willing to spend $858 billion on the military without batting an eye?

Worse yet: No one knows where all this the money is going. 

The Pentagon just failed its annual audit for the fifth year in a row. “I would not say that we flunked,” said DoD Comptroller Mike McCord, although his office did admit that the Pentagon only managed to account for 39 percent of its $3.5 trillion in assets. 

The U.S. military is the only U.S. government agency to have never passed a comprehensive audit.

Cost-overruns are legion. The Pentagon’s failed F-35 program has exceeded its original budget by $165 billion to date. It’s projected to cost more than $1.7 trillion. 

“Guns versus butter” is the old story. Now it’s extraordinary bloat versus unnecessary misery for American families struggling with a cost-of-livingcrisis exacerbated by inflation. 

A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that most American workers have become poorer over the past year because their real wages haven’t kept up with inflation.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. 

So back to my question: Why no real debate?

Because support for military spending is bipartisan. No lawmaker wants to be portrayed as weak on national defense. Democrats have been jumping onto the military spending bandwagon as fast as Republicans. 

Bipartisanship is not always good. In fact, it’s a problem when, as now, the lack of political conflict means no news. Absent political conflict, there’s no story. Without a story, there’s no debate or discussion in the media. Absent any debate in the media, most Americans have no idea what’s happening. 

We’re sleepwalking through history.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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