The Pentagon Budget Battle Is a Distraction

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House Democrats are battling congressional Republicans and the White House over the Pentagon’s budget. The question that divides them is whether the United States should spend too much on national defense, or way too much.

President Donald Trump has asked Congress for $750 billion, nearly $35 billion more than last year and enough to guarantee that the country remains atop the global leaderboard for military spending. Both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are on board, passing a $750 billion bill, 86–8, in June. But this princely sum has hit a roadblock in the House, where the Democratic majority instead passed a bill allocating a mere $733 billion to the military.

In response, Republicans have rushed to the rhetorical ramparts.

“House Democrats are forcing our troops to pay the price for their political disputes with the president,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R–Texas), the ranking member on the House Armed Forces Committee, in a statement to Politico. “It is irresponsible in the midst of a war to tie the Pentagon’s hands by cutting these funds while we have Special Operators, as we speak today, in 72 countries,” said Rep. Michael Waltz (R–Fla.). A policy statement from the White House warned that spending only $733 billion would “not fully support critical national security priorities.” Were such a bill to make it to his desk, Trump said he would veto it.

The Republicans are making a lot of noise over nothing. Rep. Adam Smith (D–Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has stressed how little daylight there really is between these dueling spending proposals. “The amount of stuff that we disagree on is probably about 2 percent of the bill,” he said in June.

Regardless of which bill ends up becoming law, the United States will continue to have the most expensive military in the world, the Defense Department will continue to be the world’s largest employer, and U.S. power to interfere in the fates of nations around the globe will remain intact. But by squabbling over relatively small differences between two overgrown bills, representatives of both parties are selling out their constituents. An ever-growing military budget is yet another illustration of the GOP’s abandonment of small-government principles. Democrats, meanwhile, remain forcefully oblivious to the actual tradeoffs necessary to build, much less sustain, the broad government safety net they desire.

Every congressional budget standoff is a distraction from the actual problem: Left unchecked, government spending can swallow the American economy. While they may disagree over just how massive the Pentagon’s budget should be, both parties are on the same page about avoiding the real conversation.

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