President Joe Biden Signs $700 Billion Defense Bill

The United States Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on December 15, 2021 with a vote of 88-11 with bipartisan support. The NDAA authorizes the use of $768 billion for funding defense and national security. $740 billion out of the $768 billion budget is designated for the Pentagon. The bill authorizes five percent more military spending than 2021 and increases the funding of nearly every military division. Among these are a 2.7 percent pay raise for troops, $4 billion in funding for the European Defense Initiative, $300 million to support Ukraine’s military, and strategies for dealing with geopolitical threats, and reforms how the military prosecutes sex crimes. For the first time, sexual harassment in the military will be criminalized as an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The NDAA is a must-pass piece of legislation authorized annually that outlines defense spending for the coming year. In addition to funding, Congress can supervise the Pentagon by setting policies and requiring yearly economic reports. 2022 marks the sixty-first consecutive year the NDAA has passed.

A major point of contention surrounding the 2022 NDAA is its funding sources. Under the new NDAA, the U.S. will further increase what is already by far the highest military spending in the world—a budget that accounts for nearly 40 percent of all military spending in the world. Additionally, funding for the NDAA will not be offset by a rise in taxes or spending cuts. Conscious of such fiscal concerns, President Joe Biden had initially requested around $745 billion in spending. However, Republicans on Capitol Hill pushed to increase the figure, arguing that more spending was needed to combat foreign threats, especially those posed by Russia and China. Many Democratic Party moderates shared the same outlook, prioritizing fiscal responsibility over efforts to expand social spending. 

During Senator Mitch McConnell’s floor speech in support for the 2022 NDAA, he said that he was “proud to vote for” the bill. McConnell argued that the NDAA would increase pay for troops, provide additional funding for high-quality child care facilities, and prove especially important given mounting international competition as the United States moves into 2022.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, however, criticized the spending priorities of the U.S.. Warren said, “It is long past time for us to rationalize the Pentagon’s budget and align it with the threats we face. This defense bill, like so many before it, fails miserably to do that.” Warren said that while there would be real threats to the United States that would, in select situations, require military solutions, “the defense bill went far beyond this threshold.” Warren asserted that immediate threats to U.S. citizens such as COVID-19 and the climate crisis should receive similar funding as the military. Warren also pointed out that the NDAA money would largely go towards the defense industry; contractors are poised to receive approximately $400 billion in funding. Much of this intense private sector funding comes as a result of dogged and pervasive lobbying—the defense industry spent almost $100 million on lobbying in 2021 to secure its $400 billion budget under the 2022 NDAA. Few sectors beyond the defense industry can afford to field this bill.

However, big cuts to NDAA funding are possible. In October 2021, the Congressional Budget office proposed a plan that could gradually trim the budget and save up to $1 trillion in the next decade. The military proposed ideas to save money as well. Old weapons systems and unnecessary bases could be closed, and old ships and planes could be put out of commission. However, Congress considered neither suggestion in the bill. 

As U.S. military spending becomes costlier and costlier with each passing year, many begin to question the necessity of such a large budget. These sentiments have only been amplified by domestic turmoil, from healthcare failings and poor infrastructure to racial inequity. As domestic infrastructure continues to lie unattended, the United States’ military budget continues to soar. The 2022 NDAA offers an explicit legislative confirmation of that trajectory.

By: Michelle Fang