Ilhan Omar rips Congress for approving $740.5 billion Pentagon budget while skimping on COVID relief

Omar called it a "bill to appease defense contractors and special interests"

Published December 12, 2020 11:59AM (EST)

Ilhan Omar (Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Ilhan Omar (Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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After the Democrat-controlled House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $740.5 billion budget for the Pentagon for fiscal year 2021, Rep. Ilhan Omar slammed the warped priorities that have led lawmakers to pass with few objections a "bill to appease defense contractors and special interests" while skimping on badly needed coronavirus relief.

"It is unconscionable to pass a Pentagon budget that continues to fund unnecessary projects and endless wars during a time of widespread suffering across our country," the Minnesota Democrat said in a statement. "Thousands of Minnesotans are struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. We should be investing our resources here at home — not increasing our already exorbitant Pentagon budget."

Omar was one of just 37 House Democrats to oppose the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed by a vote of 335-78 — a veto-proof majority. The legislation is expected to easily clear the Senate despite President Donald Trump's threats to veto the measure over objections unrelated to the size of the proposed Pentagon budget.

See the full roll call for the House vote here.

"This bill further commits our servicemembers to escalations abroad — including a now-two-decade old unpopular war in Afghanistan," Omar said. "Every dollar we spend on endless wars is another missed opportunity to invest in our communities. Shamefully, this bill does nothing to stop arms sales to some of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in the world, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."

Passage of the sprawling defense bill came as congressional leaders and the White House continued to negotiate the details of a coronavirus relief package that progressive lawmakers have decried as woefully inadequate to address the needs of countless sick, hungry, and eviction-prone Americans.

A $908 billion bipartisan relief framework unveiled last week would not provide direct stimulus payments to U.S. households, while an $916 billion offer put forth by the White House late Tuesday would not provide a weekly boost to unemployment benefits. Both plans fall well short of the $3-4.5 trillion stimulus that experts say is needed to relieve widespread suffering and prevent a prolonged economic recession.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., joined Omar in voting against the NDAA on Tuesday, declaring that Congress "should be cutting down the Pentagon's budget — not increasing it... again."

"Let's put the priorities of the American people above the profits of defense contractors," Pocan added.

Pocan over the summer led an effort with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to cut the bloated Pentagon budget by 10% and invest the savings in housing, healthcare, and education. As Common Dreams reported at the time, the amendment ultimately failed thanks to opposition from 139 House Democrats and 185 Republicans. A similar amendment led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was voted down in the Senate.

Earlier this month, Sarah Lazare of In These Times contrasted the ongoing "stale­mate over coro­n­avirus relief with bipar­ti­san sup­port for the U.S. war machine," which reliably receives an injection of hundreds of billions of dollars in funding each year with little opposition.

"We should not allow bipar­ti­san agree­ment on mil­i­tary spend­ing to sim­ply fade into the back­ground, as an unre­mark­able and immutable fact of U.S. pol­i­tics," wrote Lazare. "That we can find the mon­ey for war but not for coro­n­avirus relief expos­es the moral rot at the cen­ter of U.S. pol­i­tics, a rot that must be dug out and expunged if we are to get through this crisis."

By Jake Johnson

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