Leftist Elected Officials Should Always Vote No on the Military Budget

It should be a matter of course that self-identified leftist and progressive members of Congress should vote down the annual bloated, dangerous, war-profiteer bonanza that is the military budget.

Bernie Sanders speaks to the media outside of the White House on July 17, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images)

Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders cast a vote that should be expected of all left-leaning politicians in Congress: he voted against giving $886 billion to the Pentagon.

In his speech explaining why he could not support this massive giveaway to the military industrial complex, Sanders noted the urgent domestic problems that should take priority over fattening the already-engorged military-industrial complex: climate change, health care, childcare, education, housing, and the declining life expectancy of the American working class.

Congress, Sanders said, has “partisan fights over all kinds of things.” Yet somehow, every year, he pointed out, there’s “one thing they all agree on: more money for the Pentagon.” He also offered an amendment to cut military spending by 10 percent, which sadly got only eleven votes.

Sanders had many sound reasons for his vote. He pointed out that a government truly concerned with “national security” would address the unprecedented flooding in his state that is destroying people’s homes or provide help to the Americans “sleeping on the street.” Instead, he said, the United States spends more on its military than “the next ten countries combined, most of whom are our allies,” and much more than either China or Russia. Indeed, most years, he observed, Congress gives the military more money than it asks for, with the result that the Pentagon has “so much taxpayer money that it doesn’t know what to do with.” Sanders also argued that much of that funding is squandered in waste, fraud, and abuse — and almost half goes to “corporate welfare,” or private military contractors.

These are well-trodden points about the military among leftists, but they’re well-trodden because the military’s bloated budget stays so incredibly bloated. When Sanders notes that government elites insist that “we don’t have the money” to give everyone health care, as other rich countries do, while showering the military with needless billions, he sounds just as indignant as he has while making this same case throughout his entire political career. He also pointed out that even after a million COVID-19 deaths, we aren’t prepared for the next pandemic, another urgent matter of “national security.”

US Air Force F16 fighter jets fly in formation during US-Philippines joint air force exercises at Clark Air Base on May 9, 2023 in Mabalacat, Pampanga province, Philippines. (Ezra Acayan / Getty Images)

Sanders could have added another reason to vote no on the military budget: war is bad for “national security.” Having such a huge military is not only a waste of money; it’s also dangerous because it makes it that much more likely that we will go to war, just as you are more likely to shoot someone if you are packing heat.

Indeed, the United States has in recent months skirted perilously close to war with China as tensions escalate over Taiwan, partly as a result of President Biden’s boneheaded insistence that the United States will help Taiwan if China invades that country. If that disastrous scenario comes to pass, it would be the first time that two nuclear powers go directly to war with one another.

Everyone should be doing everything they can to avoid such a disaster. Instead, many of the “experts” quoted in the media on the subject are beating the drums for war because they work for military contractors. Funding this death machine keeps such parasites alive, and they in turn fuel tensions with other countries to keep up the illusion that we need the military. It’s a sick cycle that is bad for the working class of every country, including the United States.

Impending war with China, part of the Pentagon’s justification for requesting so many billions this year, is a terrifying prospect. Yet most Democratic politicians, even leftists, have been unwilling to say so. Even as left politics and ideas have become more mainstream, the extremely popular opposition to war has been anathema to the establishment and even shunned in many left circles. That’s partly because there is no grassroots antiwar movement. But it’s a vicious cycle: there is no antiwar movement because there is no political or intellectual leadership for such a thing.

House Republicans surreally attaching multiple soldier-hating amendments to their version of the military budget — including depriving military service members of abortions and gender-affirming care — caused even most centrist Democrats to vote no. (Those anti-trans and anti-woman provisions aren’t in the Senate version.) Before these proposals, the Squad was widely expected to support the military budget because of the lack of progressive opposition to nearly any aspect of US involvement in the Ukraine war. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said back in March, paradoxically, that “we always vote no on the military budget,” but “we support aid to Ukraine” — aid that is subject to little oversight and has been used to fund weapons of horrific humanitarian impact like cluster bombs. Sanders joined his fellow Democrats in voting down a Republican amendment to appoint an inspector general to oversee the billions of dollars that the United States is spending on Ukraine.

With so little public pressure on these issues, there is not enough pressure on politicians to resist the war machine, and it shows.

Sanders didn’t mention war with China in his speech this week, but he’s been characteristically bolder than most on this subject, warning two years ago against what he called “Washington’s Dangerous New Consensus on China,” in an op-ed in Foreign Affairs.

The socialist Senator showed leadership with his speech and no vote on the military budget. On Thursday night, five other Democrats in the Senate joined him in voting no, including Ed Markey, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren. (A few otherwise horrific Republicans did the same, including J. D. Vance.) Opposition to all military budgets is a low bar for left politicians; it’s one that all progressive constituencies should demand.