Democrats pressure Joe Biden to cut Pentagon funding

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The Democratic Party’s emboldened left wing is putting the squeeze on President-elect Joseph R. Biden to cut Pentagon funding and stack his administration with antiwar advocates.

The 2021 policy priorities for the Congressional Progressive Caucus include reining in Department of Defense spending and repealing old military authorizations.

“Congress must reverse course on the ever-growing, wasteful and bloated Pentagon budget that fuels wars and saps communities of vital investments,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who serves as the caucus whip.

House liberals, such as Ms. Omar, will have expanded influence next year as Democrats head into the new Congress with a diminished majority, potentially giving the progressives effective veto power over major legislation.

Rep.-elect Cori Bush of Missouri said cutting the Pentagon’s budget should be a major priority.

“We should be looking at cutting that Pentagon budget by 10%, like it has been proposed, to make sure that our veterans get the resources and our communities get the resources they need,” Ms. Bush said recently on CNN.

Mr. Biden talks more about diplomacy than military spending, stressing the need to re-engage traditional U.S. allies, notably when it comes to confronting China’s economic and military power.

“On any issue that matters to the U.S.-China relationship … we’re stronger and more effective when we’re flanked by nations that share our vision and the future of our world,” he said Monday in a speech in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus also wants to repeal old authorizations for the use of military force, require Congress to approve all acts of war, and end U.S. involvement in military conflicts in Yemen and Afghanistan.

The current Congress approved resolutions to limit President Trump’s war power authority in Iran and Yemen, but they didn’t survive the president’s veto pen.

Congress could override a Trump veto for the first time this week on the National Defense Authorization Act, a $740 billion annual Pentagon spending and policy bill.

Rep. Barbara Lee, the only House member to vote against the 2001 authorization for use of military force in Afghanistan, said lawmakers need to fight to repeal those war authorizations regardless of who’s in the White House.

“The Constitution requires that Congress give the president the authority to use force — that has been abdicated for whichever president it is,” the California Democrat said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Democrat or a Republican in that White House. We’ve got to repeal these authorizations; we’ve got to cut this bloated military budget.”

Ms. Lee estimated that as much as $350 billion could be chopped out of the Pentagon budget, but that progressives were starting with 10% for now.

In his Monday speech, Mr. Biden said he wants to modernize defense priorities instead of pouring money into outdated “legacy systems” to meet foreign policy challenges.

“We have to be able to innovate — to reimagine our defenses against growing threats in new realms like cyberspace,” he said.

Asked if Mr. Biden could support cutting the Pentagon budget, his transition team pointed to comments during the campaign in which Mr. Biden said he didn’t foresee pursuing major cuts.

“We have to focus more on unmanned capacity, cyber and IT, in a very modern world that is changing rapidly,” Mr. Biden told Stars and Stripes in September. “I’ve met with a number of my advisers and some have suggested in certain areas the budget is going to have to be increased.”

Mr. Biden also said during the campaign that the president has the constitutional authority to direct “limited” military operations abroad.

“Only in the most exigent circumstances would I use force without extensive consultation with Congress,” he said in a New York Times questionnaire.

Liberal antiwar advocates, led in part by the veterans group Common Defense, also have pushed for the incoming administration to tap Pentagon spending hawks and opponents of U.S. military operations overseas for key roles.

“While troops and their families rely on food stamps and living in buildings with mold, the overwhelming majority of the Trump administration’s $740 billion Pentagon budget goes to the profits of just a handful of corporations,” said Jose Vasquez, executive director of Common Defense.

One of the names advocates have floated for deputy national security adviser or another top post is Matt Duss, a foreign policy adviser for Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

“With a Democrat in the White House, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more Republicans who might suddenly become more interested in constraining executive power,” Mr. Duss said.

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