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Progressives demand defense budget cuts amid coronavirus pandemic

Progressives demand defense budget cuts amid coronavirus pandemic
© Greg Nash

Nearly 30 Democrats are demanding that leaders of the House Armed Services Committee cut the defense budget amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Nearly 5,000 National Guard troops to stay in DC over concerns of potential violence in March MORE (D-Wash.) and ranking member Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (R-Texas), the Democrats, most of whom are in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, urged the panel's top lawmakers to authorize a smaller defense budget in this year’s policy bill compared to last year’s.

“These are unparalleled times. We encourage you to constrain defense spending during this pandemic so that we can defeat the greatest threat to our nation – the coronavirus,” the Democrats wrote in the letter released Tuesday.

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Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanSenate Democrats likely to face key test of unity on 2022 budget Democrats blast Facebook over anti-vaccine pages Watch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget MORE (Wis.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeLawmakers, Martin Luther King III discuss federal responses to systematic racism The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds MORE (Calif.) organized the letter. It was signed by 27 other Democrats, including firebrand “squad” members Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezBudget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: 'Hold me to it' Democrats scramble to rescue minimum wage hike Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren MORE (N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarMehdi Hasan gets MSNBC Sunday prime-time show Six ways to visualize a divided America Jamaal Bowman's mother dies of COVID-19: 'I share her legacy with all of you' MORE (Minn.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPressley says image of Black custodial staff cleaning up Capitol after Jan. 6 riot 'haunts' her DeJoy apologizes for mail delays while defending Postal Service changes DeJoy set for grilling by House Oversight panel MORE (Mass.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSix ways to visualize a divided America Jamaal Bowman's mother dies of COVID-19: 'I share her legacy with all of you' Democrats urge Biden FDA to drop in-person rule for abortion pill MORE (Mich.).

“America needs a coronavirus cure, not more war,” the letter said. “We need more testing, not more bombs. In order to reopen our nation in a data-driven, safe manner, we need to focus our spending efforts on the millions of additional coronavirus tests and tens of thousands of additional contract tracers we will need, as well as covering treatment costs, developing therapeutics, and distributing future vaccines.”

Twenty-nine Democrats withholding their support for the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could complicate efforts to pass the bill in the House later this year if Republicans were to vote against it.

In 2019, Republicans voted against the initial House version of the bill, meaning it had to pass on Democratic support alone. After a compromise version of the NDAA emerged from negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate that led to the removal of several progressive priorities, House Republicans supported the measure and it easily passed despite a handful of progressives voting against it.

Defense budget analysts have predicted cuts once the coronavirus pandemic ends because of fiscal pressures such as rising federal deficits.

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Smith has suggested lawmakers will need to “reevaluate” the entire federal budget, including defense allocations, after the pandemic subsides.

But this year’s NDAA is expected to follow a two-year budget deal Congress approved in 2019 that set the fiscal 2021 defense budget at about $740 billion. Last year’s NDAA was about $738 billion.

And while progressives are arguing the pandemic should prompt the United States to reassess its priorities and spend less on defense and more on areas such as public health, defense hawks argue the security threats that drove spending at the Department of Defense (DOD) before the pandemic have not changed.

“I bristle a little bit at the notion that, well of course DOD’s got to get their budget cut,” Thornberry told reporters on a call earlier this month. “The world's not going to be any safer on the other side of COVID[-19].”

Thornberry has also said he expects the initial House version of the bill to be more bipartisan than the 2019 version.

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“I think that there is a good chance that we will have a bipartisan bill this year,” Thornberry said on the call.

Smith has said he has learned from last year’s bill what is possible to get signed into law with the Senate and White House controlled by Republicans.

“We're going to explore the realm of the possible,” Smith told reporters last month. “I've got to get the bill out of committee, off the House floor and get a conference report that we're all agreed to. And that means that I've got to get 218 members — Democrats, Republicans, some combination thereof — and 60 senators and the president to agree to it. And there’s a lot of different issues there and a lot of things involved, and it's an art project.”