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 $740bn military budget that is coming up for a vote in the Senate this 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 $6tn.
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% and use the $74bn in savings to invest in distressed communities around the country that are experiencing extreme poverty, mass incarceration, deindustrialization and decades of neglect.
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.
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 this extraordinary moment in the history of our country, 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% and investing that money into communities across the country is a modest but important way to begin that process.