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The $700 billion military spending package could pay for tuition-free college with room to spare

127 Democrats, including Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, backed the proposed National Defense Authorization Act of 2018.

Will Caron

Both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to approve the $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 on Nov. 14, 2017. The bill would boost military spending by $80 billion a year. Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to create tuition-free public higher education would have cost the federal government $47 billion per year to cover 67 percent of the cost. (Even if the federal government were to pay for 100 percent of the proposal, it would cost just $70 billion per year.)

The vote tally was 357–70, with 127 Democrats—including Rep. Colleen Hanabusa—backing the bill. Sixty-seven Democrats—including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard—voted against the legislation.

The bill provides funding for 90 F-35 jets—20 more than President Trump requested—and approves more than $12 billion for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency just as tensions between the United States and North Korea are at an all time high.

According to the Associated Press, the legislation additionally “includes money for as many as 28 additional Ground-Based Interceptors, which are anti-missile missiles that would be launched from underground silos in Alaska in the event the U.S. decided to try to shoot down a North Korean missile heading toward the United States. The interceptors are designed to directly hit the enemy missile outside the Earth’s atmosphere, obliterating it by the force of impact.”

The Senate will debate the legislation shortly after Thanksgiving before voting on whether or not to send it to President Trump’s desk. Because the spending package far exceeds the $549 billion ceiling set by the Budget Control Act, which President Obama signed to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011, House and Senate leaders will first have to strike a budget deal that increases the cap.

The single biggest section of the discretionary portion of the budget is military spending. The Pentagon tried to hide $125 billion in wasted spending last fall, and it has been unable to pass a financial audit. Major new weapons systems, including the F-35, have been outright disasters.

U.S. war efforts in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan have cost $4.79 trillion as of 2016.

If the bill is signed into law, the U.S. would begin spending more than three times as much as China on its military, and 10 times as much as Russia. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the U.S. already accounts for more than a third of all military spending on the planet.

Lobbying groups in this sector contributed more than $11 million in campaign donations in 2016, with 38 percent going to Democrats and 62 percent going to Republicans. The top 100 aerospace & defense (A&D) companies accounted for $709 billion in revenue, resulting in $69 billion in profits for 2016, an increase from $689 billion in revenue and $64 billion in profits compared with 2015.

Senator Sanders was the top recipient of Congressional A&D donations in 2016 during his bid for president. A&D was not in the top five industries that donated to the Sanders campaign. Out of the previous four election cycles, Republicans were the top recipients in three of them. The fourth, 2008, saw then-Senator Barack Obama receive the most A&D money.