Progressive Dems urge defense spending cut

By Tony Bertuca / May 19, 2020 at 1:38 PM

Nearly 30 progressive House Democrats have sent a letter to the House Armed Services Committee seeking a cut in defense spending in favor of devoting more elsewhere to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We encourage you to constrain defense spending during this pandemic so that we can defeat the greatest threat to our nation -- the coronavirus," the lawmakers wrote. "America needs a coronavirus cure, not more war. We need more testing, not more bombs."

The lead authors of the letter are Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Barbara Lee (D-CA).

Signers include marquee members of the Progressive Caucus like Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ro Khanna (D-CA), and others.

The letter is addressed to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-TX). Both have said they wish to adhere to a previously struck congressional deal that would authorize a total defense budget of $740.5 billion.

Though Smith has said he does not support giving the Pentagon stimulus funding for the defense industrial base during the COVID-19 crisis, he has not said the defense budget for FY-21 should be cut.

The progressive signers of the letter, however, argue that "the coronavirus is our greatest adversary."

"Congress must remain focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic and distributing needed aid domestically," the lawmakers wrote. "In order to do so, appropriators must have access to increased levels of non-defense spending which could be constrained by any increase to defense spending."

It's unclear if the progressive group could muster enough votes to derail a final fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill, especially if, like last year, not a single Republican backs the bill.

But Thornberry has said he is optimistic that the House will finds its way toward a bipartisan bill. Smith and Thornberry have also released a joint statement pledging a bill will pass this year.

Smith clashed with many liberal Democrats last year who said the FY-20 bill did not contain enough of the party's liberal priorities.

"This is the most progressive defense bill in the history of the country with Donald Trump as president and [Sen.] Jim Inhofe [R-OK] as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee," Smith said at the time. "I will rest on that sentence."