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The Pentagon Budget as Corporate Welfare for Weapons Makers

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. By William Hartung

What company gets the most money from the U.S. government? The answer: the weapons maker Lockheed Martin. As the Washington Post recently reported, of its $51 billion in sales in 2017, Lockheed took in $35.2 billion from the government, or close to what the Trump administration is proposing for the 2019 State Department budget. And which company is in second place when it comes to raking in the taxpayer dollars? The answer: Boeing with a mere $26.5 billion. And mind you, that's before the good times even truly begin to roll, as TomDispatch regular and weapons industry expert William Hartung makes clear today in a deep dive into the (ir)realities of the Pentagon budget. When it comes to the Department of Defense, though, perhaps we should retire the term "budget" altogether, given its connotation of restraint. Can't we find another word entirely? Like the Pentagon cornucopia?

Sometimes, it's hard to believe that perfectly sober reportage about Pentagon funding issues isn't satire in the style of the New Yorker's Andy Borowitz. Take, for instance, a recent report in the Washington Examiner that Army Secretary Mark Esper and other Pentagon officials are now urging Congress to release them from a September 30th deadline for fully dispersing their operation and maintenance funds (about 40% of the department's budget). In translation, they're telling Congress that they have more money than even they can spend in the time allotted.

It's hard to be forced to spend vast sums in a rush when, for instance, you're launching a nuclear arms "race" of one by "modernizing" what's already the most advanced arsenal on the planet over the next 30 years for a mere trillion-plus dollars (a sum that, given the history of Pentagon budgeting, is sure to rise precipitously). In that context, let Hartung usher you into the wondrous world of what, in the age of The Donald, might be thought of (with alliteration in mind) as the Plutocratic Pentagon. Tom

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How the Pentagon Devours the Budget
Normalizing Budgetary Bloat
By William D. Hartung

Imagine for a moment a scheme in which American taxpayers were taken to the cleaners to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and there was barely a hint of criticism or outrage. Imagine as well that the White House and a majority of the politicians in Washington, no matter the party, acquiesced in the arrangement. In fact, the annual quest to boost Pentagon spending into the stratosphere regularly follows that very scenario, assisted by predictions of imminent doom from industry-funded hawks with a vested interest in increased military outlays.

Most Americans are probably aware that the Pentagon spends a lot of money, but it's unlikely they grasp just how huge those sums really are. All too often, astonishingly lavish military budgets are treated as if they were part of the natural order, like death or taxes.

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The figures contained in the recent budget deal that kept Congress open, as well as in President Trump's budget proposal for 2019, are a case in point: $700 billion for the Pentagon and related programs in 2018 and $716 billion the following year. Remarkably, such numbers far exceeded even the Pentagon's own expansive expectations. According to Donald Trump, admittedly not the most reliable source in all cases, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reportedly said, "Wow, I can't believe we got everything we wanted" -- a rare admission from the head of an organization whose only response to virtually any budget proposal is to ask for more.

The public reaction to such staggering Pentagon budget hikes was muted, to put it mildly. Unlike last year's tax giveaway to the rich, throwing near-record amounts of tax dollars at the Department of Defense generated no visible public outrage. Yet those tax cuts and Pentagon increases are closely related. The Trump administration's pairing of the two mimics the failed approach of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s -- only more so. It's a phenomenon I've termed "Reaganomics on steroids." Reagan's approach yielded oceans of red ink and a severe weakening of the social safety net. It also provoked such a strong pushback that he later backtracked by raising taxes and set the stage for sharp reductions in nuclear weapons.

Donald Trump's retrograde policies on immigration, women's rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, and economic inequality have spawned an impressive and growing resistance. It remains to be seen whether his generous treatment of the Pentagon at the expense of basic human needs will spur a similar backlash.

Of course, it's hard to even get a bead on what's being lavished on the Pentagon when much of the media coverage failed to drive home just how enormous these sums actually are. A rare exception was an Associated Press story headlined "Congress, Trump Give the Pentagon a Budget the Likes of Which It Has Never Seen." This was certainly far closer to the truth than claims like that of Mackenzie Eaglen of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which over the years has housed such uber-hawks as Dick Cheney and John Bolton. She described the new budget as a "modest year-on-year increase." If that's the case, one shudders to think what an immodest increase might look like.

The Pentagon Wins Big

So let's look at the money.

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Though the Pentagon's budget was already through the roof, it will get an extra $165 billion over the next two years, thanks to the congressional budget deal reached earlier this month. To put that figure in context, it was tens of billions of dollars more than Donald Trump had asked for last spring to "rebuild" the U.S. military (as he put it). It even exceeded the figures, already higher than Trump's, Congress had agreed to last December. It brings total spending on the Pentagon and related programs for nuclear weapons to levels higher than those reached during the Korean and Vietnam wars in the 1950s and 1960s, or even at the height of Ronald Reagan's vaunted military buildup of the 1980s. Only in two years of Barack Obama's presidency, when there were roughly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or about seven times current levels of personnel deployed there, was spending higher.

Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy put the new Pentagon budget numbers in perspective when he pointed out that just the approximately $80 billion annual increase in the department's top line between 2017 and 2019 will be double the current budget of the State Department; higher than the gross domestic products of more than 100 countries; and larger than the entire military budget of any country in the world, except China's.

Democrats signed on to that congressional budget as part of a deal to blunt some of the most egregious Trump administration cuts proposed last spring. The administration, for example, kept the State Department's budget from being radically slashed and it reauthorized the imperiled Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for another 10 years. In the process, however, the Democrats also threw millions of young immigrants under the bus by dropping an insistence that any new budget protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or "Dreamers," program. Meanwhile, the majority of Republican fiscal conservatives were thrilled to sign off on a Pentagon increase that, combined with the Trump tax cut for the rich, funds ballooning deficits as far as the eye can see -- a total of $7.7 trillion worth of them over the next decade.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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