Friday, June 26, 2020. New York City – I got this petition from Bernie Sanders.
At this unprecedented moment in American history — a terrible pandemic, an economic meltdown, people marching across the country to end systemic racism and police brutality, growing income and wealth inequality and an unstable president in the White House — now is the time to bring people together to fundamentally alter our national priorities and rethink the very structure of American society.
In that regard, I have been disturbed that for too long Democrats and Republicans have joined together in passing outrageously high military budgets while ignoring the needs of the poorest people in our society. If we are serious about altering our national priorities, then there is no better place to begin with than taking a hard look at the bloated, record-breaking $740 billion military budget that is coming up for a vote in the Senate next week.
Incredibly, after adjusting for inflation, we are now spending more on the military than we did during the height of the Cold War or during the wars in Vietnam and Korea.
This extraordinary level of military spending comes at a time when the Department of Defense is the only agency of our federal government that has not been able to pass an independent audit, when defense contractors are making enormous profits while paying their CEOs exorbitant compensation packages, and when the so-called “War on Terror” will end up costing us some $6 trillion.
I believe this is a moment in history when it would be a good idea for all of my colleagues, and the American people, to remember what former Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1953:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
What Eisenhower said was true 67 years ago, and it is true today.
Will we be a nation that spends more money on nuclear weapons, or will we be one that invests in jobs, affordable housing, health care and childcare for those who need it most?
In order to begin the process of transforming our national priorities, I will be introducing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to reduce the military budget by 10 percent and use the $74 billion in savings to invest in distressed communities around the country that are experiencing extreme poverty, mass incarceration, deindustrialization and decades of neglect.
Next week, the Senate will begin consideration of this legislation which amounts to more than half of the discretionary spending of the U.S. government. That is why it is vitally important for you to join me now in supporting this amendment.
Let us send a powerful message to Mitch McConnell and the Democratic leadership. We need to change national priorities and we need to do it now!
Here is what the amendment would do:
- Create jobs by building affordable housing, schools, childcare centers, community health centers, public hospitals, libraries, sustainable energy projects, and clean drinking water facilities.
- Improve education by hiring more public school teachers to reduce class sizes, ensuring teachers receive adequate pay, providing nutritious meals to children and parents, and offering free tuition for public colleges, universities, and trade schools.
- Make housing more affordable by providing rental assistance and bringing an end to homelessness.
These funds would not be used for police departments, prisons or jails. It is time to invest in jobs and education, not more jails and incarceration.
If this horrific coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it is that national security involves a lot more than bombs, missiles, tanks, submarines, nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction. National security also means doing all we can to improve the lives of the American people, many of whom have been abandoned by our government for decades.
In my view, the time is long overdue for us to take a hard look not only at the size of the Pentagon budget, but at the incredible amount of waste, fraud, and financial mismanagement that has taken place at the Department of Defense for many, many years.
Let’s be clear: About half of the Pentagon’s budget goes directly into the hands of private contractors, not our troops. Those same contractors have paid millions in fines and settlements for misconduct, all while making huge profits off of their government contracts.
Furthermore, Congress has appropriated so much money for the Department of Defense that the Pentagon literally does not know what to do with it. According to the Government Accountability Office, between 2013 and 2018 the Pentagon returned more than $80 billion of its funds back to the Treasury.
We cannot keep providing excessive funds to the Pentagon when millions of children in this country are going hungry and 140 million Americans struggle to pay for the basic necessities of life without worrying about going broke.
Now is the time for us to truly focus on what we value as a society and to fundamentally transform our national priorities.
Cutting the military budget by 10 percent and investing that money into communities across the country is a modest way to begin that process. That is why I am asking you directly:
We must never stop fighting for the kind of country we know we can become. Thank you for adding your name to our petition today.
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