Congress has spoken when it comes to next year’s Pentagon budget and the results, if they weren’t so in line with past practices, should astonish us all. The House of Representatives voted to add $37 billion and the Senate $45 billion to the administration’s already humongous request for “national defense,” a staggering figure that includes both the Pentagon budget and work on nuclear weapons at the Department of Energy. If enacted, the Senate’s sum would push spending on the military to at least $850 billion annually, far more — adjusted for inflation — than at the height of the Korean or Vietnam wars or the peak years of the Cold War.
U.S. military spending is, of course, astronomically high — more than that of the next nine countries combined. Here’s the kicker, though: the Pentagon (an institution that has never passed a comprehensive financial audit) doesn’t even ask for all those yearly spending increases in its budget requests to Congress. Instead, the House and Senate continue to give it extra tens of billions of dollars annually. No matter that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has publicly stated the Pentagon has all it needs to “get the capabilities… to support our operational concepts” without such sums.
It would be one thing if such added funding were at least crafted in line with a carefully considered defense strategy. More often than not, though, much of it goes to multibillion dollar weapons projects being built in the districts or states of key lawmakers or for items on Pentagon wish lists (formally known as “unfunded priorities lists”). It’s unclear how such items can be “priorities” when they haven’t even made it into the Pentagon’s already enormous official budget request.
In addition, throwing yet more money at a department incapable of managing its current budget only further strains its ability to meet program goals and delivery dates. In other words, it actually impairs military readiness. Whatever limited fiscal discipline the Pentagon has dissipates further when lawmakers arbitrarily increase its budget, despite rampant mismanagement leading to persistent cost overruns and delivery delays on the military’s most expensive (and sometimes least well-conceived) weapons programs.
Read the full piece in TomDispatch.