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Congress Could Rubber-Stamp a Defense Spending Spree

The annual US defense budget has never been crafted through a particularly transparent process. Now, a global pandemic has taken the yearly passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) from merely murky to downright opaque.

Normally characterized by late-night sessions of debate and hundreds of offered amendments, the passage of the defense bill is often deemed a bipartisan effort. However, updated processes in the House and Senate to encourage social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic—such as only allowing members to vote in shifts, with thorough cleanings between groups—threaten to severely limit amendments to the bill when it comes to the House floor later this month. That puts us in danger of a defense spending spree rubber-stamped by Congress. And this year’s version of the NDAA—for which the Trump administration has proposed a budget of $740.5 billion—is poised to benefit one party more than any other: the arms industry and its lobbyists, who are seeking to cash in while overriding the opinions of the American public on key national security issues.

The Trump administration’s quest for military dominance and its campaigns of maximum pressure—such as the effort to provoke regime change in Iran—stand to cost taxpayers tens of billions in weapons modernization costs this year alone, for both nuclear and conventional systems. Of particular concern is the cost of building new Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Former secretary of defense William J. Perry has described ICBMs as “some of the most dangerous weapons in the world”; if the president were to receive warning of a potential attack—even one that could be a false alarm—he would only have a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch an ICBM. That increases the chances of an accidental nuclear war.

For both the 2020 NDAA and this year’s fiscal year 2021 budget, representatives suggested amendments that would require the Pentagon to investigate whether a new ICBM were needed at all. In both years, the amendments were defeated in the House by a solid block of Republicans and a significant number of Democrats—in part thanks to lobbying by defense tech company Northrop Grumman, which stands to make billions building the missiles. Northrop Grumman is currently on course to receive a sole-source contract to build a new ICBM, which could boost the missile’s cost beyond the current estimates of $85 billion to $150 billion.

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