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Monday, Jul 11, 2011, 10:31 am

As Deficit Hysteria Rises, the War Machine Keeps Running

By Cole Stangler
Whatever concerns the president and Congress claim to have over federal spending quickly disappear when it comes to military spending and war.

On Friday, the House approved $649 billion in defense spending to boost the Pentagon's annual budget by $17 billion for the fiscal year beginning October 1. The appropriations bill includes $119 billion to cover the costs of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Department of Defense budget was approved in a lopsided 336-87 vote, and with the support of the majority of both parties. Although billions have been slashed from other government agencies, the Pentagon will, unlike any other agency, see a major increase in its budget. Perhaps most disturbingly, the $649 billion budget was $9 billion less than what Obama sought for America's military.

Unfortunately—and unsurprisingly—protest of ever-increasing military expenditures was limited. Several amendments that would’ve slashed defense spending or funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Libya failed to garner enough support to pass.

An amendment from Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that called for cutting $33 billion from “overseas contingency operations”—effectively leaving only enough funding for a quick withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan—was defeated 97-322. A similarly worded amendment from John Garimendi (D-Calif.) that would have slashed $20 billion from the same funds failed 133-295.

A modest amendment from Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to halve the increase in Pentagon spending to a mere $8.5 billion above the current fiscal years budget was also shot down 181-244.

By passing the budget, the House also added to its confusing and contradictory stance over the president’s unilateral and unconstitutional intervention in Libya. While it has yet to authorize American military operations in the country, it refuses to cut off funding.

An amendment sponsored by Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that said “none of the funds made available by this Act may be used for the use of military force against Libya” actually came close to doing so—but failed 199-229.

A much weaker amendment from Tom Cole (R-Okla.) that prevents funds from being used for equipment and training related to the Libyan intervention—that is, aid to the anti-Gaddafi rebels—passed by a vote of 225-201.

All in all, Friday was another lesson in the stunning hypocrisy that clouds the current debates over fiscal austerity in Washington. When it comes to budget cuts, some things are on the table—for instance, low-income heating assistance, housing programs for homeless veterans, perhaps even Medicare or Social Security—and some things aren’t.

It may not be very poetic, but Barney Frank summed up the double standard of “shared sacrifice” pretty clearly: “The military budget is not on the table. The military is at the table, and it is eating everybody else’s lunch.”

The House’s budget bill will now have to be reconciled with a similar resolution in the Senate, which is still being formulated, before it goes to President Obama for his signature.

Cole Stangler is an In These Times staff writer and Schumann Fellow based in Washington D.C., covering labor, trade, foreign policy and environmental issues. His reporting has appeared in The Huffington Post and The American Prospect, and has been cited in The New York Times. He can be reached at cole[at]inthesetimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @colestangler.

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