The National Defense Authorization Act in Context

By Cruz Marquis

The National Defense Authorization Act is the main vehicle by which the military and the network of agencies supporting it get their funding and the next one is coming up for a vote soon, but how much is being spent and what is its effect?

It is no secret that military spending has been on the rise, despite the US not being involved in any major news for some time. President Trump’s final military budget in fiscal year 2020 clocked in at $738 billion in total, with only $71.5 billion going to actual warfighting overseas. That year’s budget was $21 billion more than what the president signed the year before. Isolationist might not be an unfair way to think of Trump’s foreign policy, but he could not be accused of underfunding the military establishment.

Back in March, President Brandon made the opening bid for the 2023 NDAA price tag: $813 billion. Republicans in Congress were unimpressed and cried foul, arguing that the military was being dreadfully underfunded, despite the nominal cost being significantly higher then, than it was during the Trump administration.

Predictably, Congress got their way and the bill that just emerged from the Armed Services Committees is beefier than even Biden wanted. The current bill takes up 4,408 pages (if it were printed out doubled sided, it would take up about four and a half standard packages of copy paper and would be a challenge to even move), which ensures no one will, from now until the end of time, ever read it. Length aside, it costs $857 billion, roughly $45 billion more than what the president asked for back in March and 8% more than last year’s military budget.

For the special interests associated with the military, this is Christmas a few weeks early. Taiwan gets $10 billion for their military, the Air Force gets F-35s, among other things, and the Navy gets a number of new ships.

The oddest thing about the Biden NDAA is that, despite the discrepancy between his and Trump’s, the spending increase is rather small (in the parlance of big government). Because of the rampant inflation inaugurated by the federal reserve under Trump and brought to new heights under his successor, the value of each dollar has fallen. Inflation calculators may not be known for their pinpoint accuracy, but they give an idea of how much has changed and the numbers are illuminating:

                                              2020 Dollars                                     2022 Dollars

Trump NDAA (2020)            $738 Billion                                        $841 Billion

Biden Mar. NDAA (2022)    $744 Billion                                        $813 Billion

Biden Dec. NDAA (2022)    $784 Billion                                       $857 Billion

With these numbers, partisan talking points about who is tough vs soft on national security fall away, for there really is no difference between the two parties on this. Both Democrats and Republicans are committed to the welfare-warfare state; it is only semantics and word choice which separates the two. Republicans rightly portray Trump as a president who lavished the military with America’s treasure, but any attempt to cast Biden as a pushover who is defunding the military does not reflect reality. Democrats could attack the 45th president by saying he put guns ahead of butter, but if they do, they exhaust all their legs to stand on with regards to the current president, who is spending more on defense than Trump ever did.  

The silver lining in this very expensive cloud is the repeal of the military’s draconian vaccine mandate which was ruthlessly enforced last year. Left unsaid is what is to be done with the thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who were forsaken by their government over a principled objection to an experimental drug which was rammed through the regulatory agencies and then mandated for millions of Americans. Their voices still matter, and Congress still has a moral obligation to make things right for them.

Until then, we are stuck with another year of bloated military spending for a defense department that cannot even pass an audit. The welfare-warfare state lives to fight another day.

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