Sen. Bernie Sanders Exposes Bloated Military and Intelligence Spending

by | Dec 21, 2013

Sen. Bernie Sanders, in a US Senate floor speech Thursday explaining his “no” vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (HR 3304), exposes “wasteful, inefficient, and often fraudulent” Department of Defense spending. Sanders also addresses the bloated nature of US military spending compared to military spending by other governments as well as the tens of billions of dollars sucked yearly into US intelligence agencies’ “black budget.”

Below are the video and, from the Congressional Record, text of Sanders’ speech:

Mr. SANDERS. Madam President, I take this opportunity to thank Senators Levin and Inhofe and the Committee on Armed Services for their very hard work on the Department of Defense authorization bill. Unfortunately, I must vote against it, and I want to take this opportunity to explain why I am voting no and to express my very serious concerns about our Nation’s bloated military budget, particularly in light of the many unmet needs we face as a nation.

At a time when the United States has a $17.2 trillion national debt and when we spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, the time is long overdue for us to take a hard look at the waste, at the cost overruns, and at the financial mismanagement that have plagued the Department of Defense for decades.

As a point of comparison, the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates total global military spending in 2012 at $1.583 trillion. The U.S. portion of that spending is over 40 percent–$645 billion. In other words, the United States is spending almost as much as the rest of the world combined on defense. We are spending about $645 billion. China spends $102 billion. The United Kingdom spends $64 billion. Russia spends $59 billion. Other countries spend less.

According to the Washington Post:

Since 2001, the base defense budget has soared from $287 billion to $530 billion–and that’s before accounting for the primary costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

In addition to the trillions spent on the war in Iraq and what seems to be a never-ending war in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense consistently engages in wasteful, inefficient, and often fraudulent spending.

At my request several years ago the Department of Defense issued a report detailing the breadth of fraud that exists within the Pentagon–the simple issue of massive fraud. The report showed that the Pentagon paid over $573 billion during the past 10 years to more than 300 contractors involved in civil fraud cases that resulted in judgments of more than $1 million–$398 billion of which was awarded after settlement or judgment for fraud. When awards to parent companies are counted, the Pentagon paid more than $1.1 trillion during the past 10 years just to the 37 top companies engaged in fraud. The bottom line is that almost every major defense contractor in this country has in one way or another been involved in fraudulent dealings with the taxpayers of this country and the Department of Defense.

Further, above and beyond fraud, the waste at the Pentagon is rampant, and we can go on for many hours just documenting the waste, but let me give just a few–a few–of the kinds of waste that the Pentagon regularly engages in. These are just a very few examples.

In July 2013 the Pentagon decided to build a 64,000-square-foot command headquarters for the U.S. military in Afghanistan that will not be utilized or even occupied. Even though the $34 million project was deemed unwanted by military commanders 3 years ago, the military still moved ahead with construction. That is one example.

Another example. According to a report released by the Department of Defense inspector general this year, the Pentagon has been paying contractor Boeing more than $3,357 for a piece of hardware they could have purchased from their own hardware store, the Defense Logistics Agency, for $15.42. It seems to me it would be a pretty good deal to get a product for $15 that you are paying over $3,000 for, but that is the way the Pentagon runs.

Furthermore, another issue, the July 2013 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report includes the purchase of over $771 million worth of aircraft that the Afghans will be unable to operate and maintain. The Afghan Special Mission Wing has only one-quarter of the personnel needed to maintain and operate the fleet, and there are no existing DOD plans to reach full strength. The Pentagon is moving forward with purchases. Most of that money–$553 million–has been awarded to a Russian company that also sells weapons to Syria.

These are just a few examples. Needless to say, there are many more.

A recent article in Mother Jones has some interesting numbers about our military spending. According to the article, 70 percent of the value of the Federal Government’s $1.8 trillion in property, land, and equipment belongs to the Pentagon. The American people will no doubt be interested in understanding that the Pentagon operates more than 170 golf courses worldwide.

At a time when we now spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on defense, we can make judicious cuts in our Armed Forces without compromising our military capability. I think everybody in the Congress believes and understands that we need a strong defense–no debate about that–but we do not need a defense budget that is bloated, that is wasteful, and that has in it many areas of fraud.

In this respect, I hope my Republican colleagues and, in fact, all of my colleagues remember what former President Dwight Eisenhower, a good Republican, said on April 16, 1953, just as he was leaving office. What he said then was profound, and it is as true today as when he said it 60 years ago. This is what he said:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

I would ask all of my colleagues to remember what Eisenhower said and understand that today, when we have this bloated and huge military budget, there are people who are talking about massive cuts in food stamps, massive cuts in education, massive cuts in affordable housing, cuts in Social Security, cuts in Medicare, cuts in Medicaid. I would argue very strongly that before we cut from the elderly and the children and the sick and the poor, maybe we take a hard look at this bloated military budget.

That is my view, but let me mention what the Cato Institute has to say–not Bernie Sanders but the Cato Institute, one of the most conservative organizations in this country. Here is what the Cato Institute said on May 3, 2013. By the way, as I think most people know, my views are as far apart as possible from the Cato Institute on most issues. This is what the Cato Institute said. Some of my conservative Republican friends might want to pay attention to this quote:

U.S. military spending is far too excessive for legitimate defense needs. . . . After sequestration we will still spend more [on defense], against much less severe threats, than at the peak of the Cold War. . . . The U.S. now accounts for 44 percent of all global military spending. Put another way, the U.S. spends nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. . . . Twenty percent of the U.S. federal budget is devoted to military spending, while the average—

And this is an important point made by Cato—

for our NATO allies is a mere 3.6 percent. Five percent of U.S. annual GDP is allocated to the military, but for the NATO countries, Japan and China, it is well below 2 percent. . . . Today the amount Washington spends on the military each year is $2,300 a person in the U.S. The comparable obligation for the average NATO country is $503 a person. For China it is less than $200 a person.

That is not Bernie Sanders; that is the Cato Institute.

The situation is so absurd that the Pentagon is unable to even account for how it spends its money. Earlier this year the Government Accountability Office cited its inability–that is, the GAO’s ability–to audit the Pentagon. They wrote that they were unable to do a comprehensive financial analysis due to “serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense that made its financial statements unauditable.” That is from the Government Accountability Office. So we are voting for a budget that the GAO says they cannot even audit–for the most expensive agency in government.

Let me now quote from an article that appeared in the Washington Post on August 29, 2013. The defense budget–a purposefully opaque document–includes what is known as the black budget. The information I am providing here comes from the Washington post–$52.6 billion that funds the CIA, NSA, and other secret intelligence agencies. The CIA, NSA, and National Reconnaissance Office receive more than 68 percent of the black budget, with the NSA receiving $10.8 billion annually. At a time when the NSA has been engaging in what I consider to be unconstitutional activities–the widespread collection of American citizens’ data–I think we can find the ability to make some cuts in what they are doing.

I support a strong defense for our country and a robust National Guard and Reserve that can meet our domestic and foreign challenges. The National Guard provides a well-trained, disciplined, and operationally ready force for a fraction of the cost that Active-Duty soldiers require. The Reserve Forces do not require nearly the same level of overhead in terms of full-time employment and infrastructure costs. So as we move forward trying to develop how we have a cost-effective defense, I think we should put a great deal of emphasis on our National Guard and on the Reserve.

Let me conclude by saying in America today our middle class is struggling. We have more people living in poverty than at any time in the history of our country. Real unemployment is over 13 percent; youth unemployment, 20 percent; African-American youth unemployment, close to 40 percent.

We have an infrastructure which is crumbling. We have large numbers of young people graduating from college deeply in debt. We have others who cannot even afford to go to college because of the high cost of college. In other words, this country faces monumental problems. On top of that, we have a $17.2 trillion national debt.

It would seem to me that it is important we get our priorities straight. One of the priorities we should be getting straight is that we cannot give the Department of Defense all they want. It is time to take a very hard look at that budget in a way we have not done up to this point.

I yield the floor.


  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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