In 2020 and 2022, voting to cut the Pentagon’s budget didn’t result in House losses.

by Kevin Davis, The Equation

In December, Congress passed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The annual bill setting spending guidelines for the Pentagon has followed a common trajectory each year since the Great Recession. Every year the president, regardless of party, requests significantly more for the Pentagon than the previous year. Congress then tacks on even more money to this enormous sum. Finally, regardless of which party has the majority, it passes overwhelmingly. You can truly set your watch to it.

As in years past, this year Congress increased the already enormous budget request from the president by an additional $45 billion to a total of $858 billion, a full $80 billion more than was authorized last year. For comparison’s sake, the once-in-a-generation infrastructure bill Congress passed last year outlays about $100 billion per year. Before the end of this decade, it is almost a certainty that the Pentagon will be getting over $1 trillion every year.

US budget on a frisbee, showing that Pentagon budget is more than 50% of US budget, Des Moines, Iowa

Why is it that Congress and many Democrats continually bestow absurd sums to the one federal agency that has never passed an audit? Conventional wisdom says it is good electoral politics to write blank checks for the Pentagon. Defense writers in particular paint any vote against the Pentagon’s budget as political malpractice. The majority of the political consulting class, and by extension the candidates and members of Congress they advise, came of age in the wake of 9/11 and are still waging the political battles of the past. Most members fear the attack ad that says they’re “weak on defense,” so they vote for the biggest budget number they’re presented.

But does that conventional wisdom stack up with reality?

In 2020, co-chairs of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus Reps. Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan introduced an amendment to cut the Pentagon’s budget by 10%. It lost overwhelmingly 93-324. But something interesting happened that fall when voters went to the polls. Of the 93 members that voted to slash the Pentagon’s budget 85 stood for re-election. All 85 won.

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