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Dwight Was Right: ​Congress Must Say No to Military Contractors

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THE ARMS INDUSTRY - Last month, a lone member of Congress took a stand against a powerful industry that shamelessly extracts billions of tax dollars from the U.S. government. 

Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) was the sole member of the House Armed Services Committee to vote against a Pentagon budget championed by arms contractors who, in Khanna’s words, "are ripping off American taxpayers at every turn by raising prices to unprecedented levels.”

But Khanna isn’t the only member of Congress concerned about the massive waste of taxpayer dollars that the Pentagon budget represents. 

We need more members of Congress to stand up to the arms industry and its profit-seeking at the expense of those in need.

As the full House of Representatives prepares to take on the military spending and policy bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), other members are also sounding the alarm. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) have introduced an amendment to the bill that would cut the Pentagon budget by $100 billion and put that money toward other needs. 

The amendment specifies that none of those cuts would come from military pay or benefits for troops and their families. Instead they would target military contractors, who can spare it. More than half of the Pentagon budget—$414 billion out of $776 billion in fiscal year 2022—went to these for-profit corporations. 

Those contractors have been found repeatedly price gouging the government. In just one instance, contractors charged the Pentagon more than $10,000 for a part that NASA had previously bought for $328. Limits on Pentagon spending would force the Pentagon to work harder to avoid these abuses. 

The Pentagon itself needs more accountability, too. The agency—which receives over half of the discretionary budget that Congress allocates each year—is the only major government agency that’s never passed an audit. In its last attempt, the Pentagon was able to account for less than half of its equipment and assets. 

In short, the largest government agency has no idea where your taxpayer dollars are going.

Limits on the Pentagon budget are a win-win: they would introduce some badly needed accountability while freeing up resources for other needs.

Those needs are pressing: across the country, people are experiencing a summer of triple-digit heattornadoeswildfire smoke, and other extreme weather as a result of climate change. Scientists warned that this month, the Earth experienced its hottest days in 100,000 years. 

Additional funding reclaimed from the Pentagon budget could subsidize disaster relief and cooling help for people affected by extreme weather. It could speed the transition away from fossil fuels, so that we stop digging ourselves deeper into the climate change disaster.

There’s so much more that money could do to fix real problems. The budget deal struck by Congress earlier this year threatens cuts to everything from Head Start to public schools, public health, and more. 

In effect, our current budget priorities reward price-gouging Pentagon contractors while punishing poor families and communities. 

Decades ago, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower used his final address as president to warn his fellow citizens about the dangers of “unwarranted influence” by the arms industry. It was a theme of his presidency: in an early speech, he reminded us that every dollar spent on weapons was “a theft from those who hunger and are not fed.” 

Today, the world Eisenhower warned about has materialized. The arms industry has too many members of Congress in its pockets. Now we need more members of Congress to stand up to the arms industry and its profit-seeking at the expense of those in need. A vote to cut the Pentagon budget does just that.

(Lindsay Koshgarian directs the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.)

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