With the upcoming elections less than a week away, the Democrats are hoping for a clean sweep. They are hoping that they’ll maintain their control over the House of Representatives and gain control of the Senate and the White House.
But even if the Democratic party controls all three institutions, there is already a fight brewing. Not a fight between the parties — that has already been consuming Washington for several years — but within the Democratic Party itself.
Emboldened progressives, already sensing a clean sweep on November 3, are calling for huge cuts in defense spending and funneling the cash to domestic spending.
Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said recently that “meaningful budget cuts in Pentagon spending” will be “a top priority” for the group next year. Her comments were echoed by other progressive Democrats.
“It’s a real unique opportunity to be able to both support funding for things that we think more directly support people in the country,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) the current co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “And at the same time, we can have a critical look at defense spending, which rarely gets any kind of critical look whatsoever.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, a progressive Democrat from California, tried to initiate legislation to cut the coming year’s defense budget by 10 percent. But that move garnered little internal support and went nowhere in the House.
“You can’t really enhance the quality of life and address economic inequality and poverty and all our domestic needs if we have an excessive defense budget,” Lee said in an interview. “We can have a much more reduced budget, by at least 10 percent, and still maintain a strong national security and take care of our troops.”
Representatives Lee and Pocan, both members of the House Appropriations Committee, announced the creation of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus. It will intend to serve as an organizing point to continue demanding reductions to the Pentagon’s annual defense budget.
“Wasteful defense spending does not make our communities safer — it only weakens our ability to respond to crises,” said Lee. “Black and Brown people continue to be the ones that suffer most. We can’t keep spending billions [on] weapons while leaving our people defenseless against COVID. The Defense Spending Reduction Caucus will support our efforts to redirect wasteful defense spending toward investing in human needs.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully tried to run for President, had also introduced legislation aiming at cutting defense spending by 10 percent. Although it was easily defeated, it gained the support of some senior Democrats, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), who is also the top Democrat on the Defense Appropriations subpanel.
While the progressive members of the Democratic party are adamant about cutting spending on defense, no one thus far has detailed where the cuts would come from.
However, not all Democrats are on board with such big cuts. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he doesn’t envision major cuts to the Pentagon’s operating budget. On the contrary, he stated that in the realm of new technology he could see some increases.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) is taking what he believes to be a sensible approach to the defense budget. He doesn’t believe that a 10-20 percent slash in defense spending is in the best interests of the country. Smith has said that he is pushing for “a rational Democratic, progressive national security strategy.”
“I don’t think that rational policy involves 20 percent defense cut, but that fight is going to be had,” Smith said at an event at George Mason University. “There are extremists on the right and extremists on the left, and what I’m trying to do is to say, ‘Let’s go for pragmatic problem-solving.’ I don’t see extremism solving problems.”
The Pentagon, knowing that the coronavirus pandemic and soaring deficits have placed the country in an untenable position, has proposed a five-year defense plan. It will incorporate a flat budget for five years after 2021. Smith and some other Democrats believe that this is a workable solution.
“I think the reasonable assumption is yeah, the defense budget is going to be flat for a while ― and there is no reason on Earth in my view that we cannot defend the United States of America for $700 to $740 billion,” Smith said. But he added, “So I think the better question, the question to focus on, is how do we get more out of it?”
So, if Biden and the Democrats sweep into control come January, there will be a fight over defense spending. But most of it will be waged between the Democrats themselves.