America ran a $3.1 trillion budget deficit this year, the national debt is now the same size as the nation's entire economy, and an ongoing pandemic is straining public health budgets as millions of Americans are out of work and many businesses teeter on the edge of bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, Congress is debating how many shiny new toys the Pentagon should get next year at taxpayers' expense.
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans announced a new $1.4 trillion discretionary spending plan for next year that would send $696 billion to the Pentagon—that's a $10 billion increase over the military's current budget. A bill passed by the House in July would spend $694 billion on the Pentagon next year, so the big question facing lawmakers during the upcoming lame-duck session is whether the military gets 96 new fighter jets or whether it has to settle for a mere 91.
No, really. One of the major disagreements between the House and Senate is over how many F-35s taxpayers will buy from Lockheed Martin next year, reports Defense News, a trade publication for the military-industrial complex. The Senate wants to get 96 of them, while the House has authorized purchasing five fewer—though it should be noted that the Pentagon only asked for 79 new planes.
The various branches of the military already have 375 F-35 fighter jets, according to a July article from Air Force Magazine—far more top-of-the-line fighter jets than any other country in the world. But the planes have been criticized by the Government Accountability Office for being overpriced and failing to meet reliability goals.
Negotiations also loom over the number of new Virginia-class submarines—which cost about $5.5 billion apiece—to be built. The Navy asked for one, so naturally the House decided to budget for two. The Senate has included funding for just a single submarine, Defense News reports.
That's not sitting well with Rep. Joe Courtney (D–Conn.), whose district notably includes the submarine base in New London, Connecticut. In a statement on Tuesday, Courtney condemned the Senate's change to the submarine budget as "unworkable."
"The Navy needs more submarines," he said.
There may not be anything that better sums up the out-of-touch nature of congressional budget-making than a member of Congress demanding more submarines—submarines the Navy didn't even ask for—in the middle of an economic and public health crisis. Congress has authorized $3.8 trillion in emergency spending to fight COVID-19 since the pandemic hit in March—and, of course, lawmakers used that as an opportunity to hand more money to defense contractors, too.
America already spends more on its military than the next 10 largest countries combined. If ever there was a time for Congress to set budgets based on actual policy priorities, it would be this year.
Maybe the Pentagon can get by with only a few dozen new fighter jets and—gasp—no new submarines for a single year while the country fights an expensive war against an adversary that can't be defeated with guns and bombs.