Some senators say Biden’s social and climate bill costs too much, but comparing it to the military spending plan they just passed suggests otherwise.
By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, Lindsay Koshgarian and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
December 16, 2021
This week, the families of 61 million children received their final payments under the expanded Child Tax Credit. This credit has kept 10 million children above the poverty line, but it is expiring as the Senate delays a vote to renew it through the Build Back Better Act.
Instead, on the same day these last payments went out, the Senate voted to approve a $778 billion military spending budget — four times as much as the annual cost of the entire Build Back Better plan. Yet we’ve heard endlessly about how it’s Build Back Better that needs to be gutted so we can skimp and save.
During the worst public health and economic crisis in generations, Build Back Better could have called for at least $10 trillion over a decade. But unanimous opposition from Republicans, and a few Democrats, pushed the plan down first to $3.5 trillion — and now to just $1.7 trillion over 10 years. Even that lowest figure just squeaked by in the House and could face more cuts still in the Senate.
The smaller package means Medicare won’t cover dental care for seniors. It means no free community college. And it means deep cuts for child care and climate programs. Hearing care for seniors, paid family leave, immigrant protections and the Child Tax Credit could all still face additional cuts or be thrown out entirely.
But when it came to the largest peacetime military budget in history, all of that scrutiny disappeared. The most controversial parts of the 2,100-page military spending bill were negotiated behind closed doors and passed the House mere hours after it was made public, meaning members of Congress couldn’t possibly have read the whole thing before casting their votes.
Here are some comparisons between the military spending bill just passed, and the one senators like Sen. Joe Manchin say is too expensive.
— Congress is choosing to spend more on guarding the world’s oil supply (at least $81 billion a year) than on the Build Back Better proposal for fighting climate change ($55 billion a year).
— Congress is spending more on a single military contractor, Lockheed Martin ($75 billion last year), than on the Build Back Better proposal for preschool and child care ($40 billion a year).
— Congress has authorized spending an extra $25 billion next year on weapons the Pentagon didn’t even ask for, rather than the $20 billion a year Build Back Better proposal for poverty-busting tax credits for families and workers.
— Congress is choosing to spend more on Space Force ($17.5 billion next year), than on the Build Back Better proposal for health care for uninsured Americans ($13 billion a year).
— And finally, Congress is choosing to spend twice as much on military bases in Germany ($7.5 billion last year) than on the Build Back Better proposal for hearing benefits for seniors ($3.5 billion a year).
Who benefits from these choices?
The Build Back Better Act would reduce poverty and bring economic security to millions of children and workers. It would make child care affordable, create good jobs and invest in clean energy. And it would raise revenue through taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
Sky-high military spending, on the other hand, helps perpetuate a foreign policy that brought us 20 years of disastrous war while subsidizing military contractor CEOs and polluting the planet — all at tremendous taxpayer expense.
We’ve seen Congress’ willingness to spend money and we know that any supposed concerns about the cost of Build Back Better are distractions.
It’s time for Manchin, the main Democratic holdout, and the rest of our elected leaders to prioritize our lives and our democracy. It’s time to pass the Build Back Better Act and invest in our people, beginning with the 140 million poor and people with lower incomes in the nation — so we can get on with fighting this pandemic and its economic impacts, protecting our right to vote and all the other work this moment of crisis demands.
The only way to Build Back Better is to build back from the bottom up.
The Rev. Drs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis are co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
Lindsay Koshgarian directs the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.