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The little-known act that funds American wars

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

In the final hours before leaving for August recess, the House approved the conference report of the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Don’t let the fact that only 54 Representatives voted against the bill mislead you: the bill is chock full of wasteful military spending. Despite many attempts to block various provisions, the NDAA funds programs that are unneeded, and compromise our national security. For those who don’t follow the annual showdown that is the NDAA, here’s a bit of background on what this bill is and why it matters.

Each year, Congress must pass a National Defense Authorization Act. This legislation specifies the budget and expenditures for the Department of Defense and sets the policies under which that budget can be spent. The types of policies defined under this bill vary widely, with everything from servicemembers’ healthcare to international sanctions up for debate. The wide variety in policies covered in the legislation is partially due to the hundreds of amendments that are offered every year as members of Congress attempt to advance their top priority issues in the must-pass bill. If this rings a bell at all, it may be because of some of the more heavily reported showdowns in recent years, including a fight over whether or not transgender individuals could serve the military and whether ROTC funds could be awarded to institutions flying the confederate flag.

The current NDAA, named in honor of Senator John McCain, avoided some of those more contentious amendment battles that led to so much media coverage in the past. But that doesn’t mean there are no provisions in this bill that the general public should be wary about. The bill authorizes a whopping $717 billion for defense related spending. It allocates $69 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations budget — which is $30 billion more than what DOD estimated needing for ongoing war on terror activities, the activity the account is supposed to fund. Authorizing such a high level of funding for a department that is already reportedly wasting $125 billion dollars while domestic programs remain severely underfunded is unacceptable.

Specifically, the bill provides funding for a number of questionable — if not outright wasteful — unrequested weapons systems, including 66 additional A1 Stryker vehicles, two additional Littoral combat ships, two additional MQ-9 reapers, and an additional Ford-class aircraft carrier. These unrequested — as in no one at the Pentagon asked for them — purchases add up to hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better spent elsewhere.

Beyond the wasteful ones, there are some authorizations included in the NDAA that are simply dangerous. Those include the authorization of $65 million for a low-yield submarine-based nuclear warhead. This is the “usable” nuclear warhead that President Trump requested in the Nuclear Posture Review that was published in February. Low-yield nuclear warheads increase the odds of miscalculation and the chance that confusion could lead to a full-scale nuclear war.

Low-yield nuclear warheads aren’t the only throwback Cold War-Era provision that made it into the final NDAA. The NDAA requires that the Pentagon begin development of a space-based missile defense system. You can watch the original announcement of this program here. Space-based interceptors were an expensive failure under Reagan, and they will be again.

The NDAA conference report is poised to be passed by the Senate and the bill will be signed by President Trump with these expensive, wasteful, Cold War-Era policies included. While that’s bad news, there is some good news: Congress will have to revisit every single one of these policies when they draft a new NDAA next year.

When that happens, WAND will be ready to fight back. Will you? Make sure you sign up for our action alerts so that you will be ready when the time comes.

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