On the heels of the Pentagon proposing its largest budget ever, faith-based organizations are urging Congress to slash "militarized spending" and put that money toward health care, housing, education and other areas of "human wellbeing."
The call from 62 religious groups in a letter to Congress released Tuesday echoes years-long, unsuccessful efforts from progressive lawmakers to cut as much as $100 billion from the Pentagon budget, which is on track to top $1 trillion this decade.
"The country is sprinting towards a trillion-dollar budget for weapons and war -- propping up an expensive and harmful militarized foreign policy while people struggle to meet their basic needs," the organizations, led by Quaker group the American Friends Service Committee, wrote in their letter. "We cannot continue down this morally bankrupt path."
The progressive and religious efforts this year come amid questions about the future direction of the defense budget in a GOP-controlled House where some Republicans have vowed to roll back all government spending to 2022 levels and others have insisted the Pentagon needs significant year-over-year growth to compete with Russia and China.
On Monday, the Defense Department unveiled details of its $842 billion spending blueprint for fiscal 2024. The request represents a $26 billion, or 3.2%, increase over what Congress approved for the Pentagon for this year.
While some of that money would go toward quality-of-life issues, such as universal pre-kindergarten services for military families, a pay hike for troops and new barracks to replace moldy living quarters, hefty chunks of funding are reserved for weaponry.
The DoD has requested $170 billion for procurement, its largest ever budget for buying new weapons. That includes $30.6 billion for munitions, a $5.8 billion increase over this year, a bump Pentagon officials touted Monday as necessary to prepare for any future conflict with China.
Based on the budget's expected growth trajectory, Pentagon comptroller Mike McCord said Monday that a $1 trillion budget is inevitable.
"Maybe that's going to be a psychological big watershed moment for many of us, or some of us," he told reporters at a briefing. "But it is inevitable, and it just reflects the growth of the economy, among other things."
Some congressional Republicans have been pushing for a trillion-dollar defense budget. Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has argued for spending at least 5% of the U.S. gross domestic product on defense, which would be about $1.2 trillion.
In their letter to Congress, the religious groups called the Pentagon budget "absurd," adding they were making a "moral case" for cuts.
"The sky-high war budget siphons resources away from investments in health care, housing and education," they wrote. "War spending crowds out investment in peacebuilding and diplomacy, resulting in the loss of critical opportunities for nonviolent conflict prevention and transformation. And the constant waste, fraud, and abuse at the Pentagon and by corporate war contractors siphons taxpayer dollars away from our communities and into the pockets of corporations."
Progressive Democrats have been leading an unsuccessful fight for years to shave down the defense budget.
Earlier this year, Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., reintroduced a bill to trim $100 billion from the Pentagon budget, with specific direction in the text of the measure to spare personnel and health accounts from cuts. The bill was backed by some of the same groups who sent the letter to Congress on Tuesday, including the American Friends Service Committee.
Last year, a vote on Lee and Pocan's legislation during debate on the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, failed 78-350. A separate amendment from Lee and Pocan to cut $37 billion from the NDAA also failed 151-277.
Still, efforts to cut defense spending this year could find allies in conservatives who are calling for $130 billion in cuts across the federal government. While some Republicans have said the Pentagon budget could be spared if other agencies take deep cuts, such significant drops in nondefense spending are a nonstarter for Democrats who control the Senate and White House, and a compromise could mean trimming defense.
And with the release of the 2024 budget proposal, progressives are renewing their call to slash defense.
"This is a never-ending cycle of increased funds without accountability," Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said in a statement after the White House released the top-line dollar figure last week. "It would be a new record high for the defense budget, following a year when the Pentagon failed its fifth consecutive audit, without ever having successfully accounted for all its assets. There is simply no reason for taxpayers to continue to pay for outrageously high budgets rife with waste, fraud and abuse."
Photo: U.S. Air Force aircraft line up on the runway during a capabilities demonstration at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Nov. 22, 2022 © U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jessi Roth.