Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act into law for the 2019 fiscal year. The NDAA is a routine budget approval needed to make sure the Pentagon has adequate funding.
This particular piece of legislation allocated a total of $717 billion and enacts a 2.6 percent pay raise for active military personnel, the largest in nearly a decade. The bill passed through Congress with bipartisan support during the summer but has once again reignited overused talking points that demonstrate the left’s opposition toward Trump’s promise of “rebuilding the military.”
This opposition, however, shouldn’t surprise anyone. Back in 2016, the Democratic primary was rife with prattle about cutting defense spending. This was especially true within the Bernie Sanders camp, where the self-described socialist consistently supported eviscerating the military’s resources. From dumping our nuclear arsenal to slashing the Pentagon’s allowance, the progressive wing of the party has routinely snubbed the military in favor of domestic welfare programs.
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Apparently, Trump’s recent appropriation — representing a 2.4 percent annual budget increase — is too much for some liberals to bear. They have begun rehashing a few leftist anti-military mantras. A few weeks ago, Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, described the budget proposal as “dangerous” before adding that its intention was to “underwrite endless wars.” Reich argued that the federal government has become distended with national security expenses, which eat up two-thirds of discretionary spending (including the V.A. as “military-related spending.”)
But while Reich’s figure is mathematically correct, it fails to account for some crucial context. For example, in the next fiscal year military spending will make up 73.6 percent of the federal discretionary budget. But discretionary spending only accounts for 38 percent of total government expenditures. The remaining 62 percent is used to pay for social welfare, namely Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These allocations, called mandatory spending, will have a 2.74 trillion dollar price tag in 2019. Using the most liberal estimates and definitions, military spending will only take up at most 20 percent of the federal government’s costs.
Taking these proportions into account paints a much clearer picture. While the United States is a top-tier military spender globally, it doesn’t crack the top ten when factoring in size of government. Russia, Singapore, Lithuania and Cambodia, for example, all pay a higher percentage of their federal budget on the military than does the U.S. Furthermore, since the election of Barack Obama that fraction has fallen by 23 percent.
Reich continued by repeating another trite and vapid leftist assertion: “The United States already spends more on the military than the next 10 nations combined.” Again, while this is technically true, the relevant context is absent. When you account for GDP, America’s position as “world’s #1 military spender” falls to 20th. For comparison, Russia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Pakistan, Algeria and Iran are among the countries where a larger section of the national economy is devoted to national defense. And for good measure, that proportion in America shrunk by nearly a third under Obama’s presidency.
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So while military outlays have increased in absolute dollar amounts (as they always have), these oft-cited facts do not contain the gospel truth with regard to defense spending in this country.
Reich also portrayed the president’s military build-up as evidence of his goal to “enrich defense contractors.” Ana Kasparian, a progressive host on The Young Turks, parroted that imputation in her coverage of the budget authorization. Kasparian noted that the bill was “as we can expect, a huge hand out to private military contractors.” When Trump unveiled the spending proposal six months ago, her boss and news comrade Cenk Uygur faithfully touted a similar sentiment, indicating that it was ostensible corruption and “crony capitalism” in order to give kickbacks to the Republicans’ defense contracting donors. The implication is clear: progressives believe that the president is a marionette of the defense industry. And the irony couldn’t be more staggering.
During the campaign, while Trump drove a wedge between himself and the neoconservative base, Hillary Clinton strolled into the pocketbook of the military-industrial complex (just like she did 10 years ago). Even the dovish Bernie Sanders, who has made a career railing against defense contractors, found himself neck and neck with Trump for political contributions from the industry. In fact, three of the largest defense giants — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics — actually gave more money to Sanders than to Trump. And when a $1.5 trillion contract offered an economic boom and new jobs to Bernie’s constituency of Burlington, the anti-war leftist was quick to lend his support to the lucrative engagement.
Furthermore, throughout his presidency, Trump has had a tense relationship with the defense industry, ranging from uneasy to openly hostile. A month after he was elected, Trump advocated canceling Boeing’s $4 billion deal. Less than two weeks later, he derided Lockheed Martin for “out of control” F-35 project overruns. The president’s tough talk on NATO has created unexpected hurdles in several business deals between American defense contractors and European allies. More specifically, his tariffs have become a bane for the defense industry’s dealings, with the Aerospace Industries Association (the trade organization for military contractors) denouncing the president’s protectionist economic policies.
The left, however, appears to be willfully ignorant of this reality, insisting that the president is a crazed, warmongering puppet of private military companies.
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Last month, progressive poster child Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (also the Democratic candidate for New York’s 14th congressional district) characterized Trump’s military bulk in a way that is becoming increasingly symptomatic of the left’s hypocrisy and delusion concerning foreign policy. She said, “Just last year we gave the military a $700 billion dollar budget increase, which they didn’t even ask for.” Notwithstanding her $640 billion error, which she later described as a “small slip,” her apparent contempt for military strength at the expense of a Scandinavian-style social democracy suggests an overall desire to frame America’s military narrative through misinterpretations, exaggerations and downright inaccuracies.
Statements like that only corroborate the sentiments of figures like Reich, Kasparian, and Uygur, among others. They demonstrate the will of the left to distort the facts in order to maintain their agenda. And the reaction to Trump’s budget authorization is only the latest example of that.
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