CHN: Defense Authorization Amendments Would Shift Away from Militarization

Both the House and Senate are taking up the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2021 this week. Different from appropriations, this bill creates the legislative rules the Department of Defense must follow. Advocates seeking a shift towards domestic priorities and away from rapid growth in Pentagon spending have long sought opportunities to support such a move. That opportunity has come in both Senate and House consideration of their defense authorization bills.

Both the House and Senate will get to vote on amendments to limit military spending. They will also get the chance to limit the provision of military hardware to local law enforcement agencies.

The amendments are similar in both Senate and House. In the Senate, the Sanders-Markey amendment (#1788) to the defense bill, S. 4049, would shift $74 billion, about a 10 percent reduction, from Pentagon expenditures in FY 2021 to a federal grant program to fund health care, housing, child care and educational opportunities for cities and towns experiencing a poverty rate of 25 percent or more. Department of Defense expenditures for salaries and health care for personnel would be exempted from reductions. The House version is the Lee-Pocan amendment (#526) to its defense authorization bill (H.R. 6359).

The bipartisan Senate amendment to restrict the transfer of weapons of war from the Pentagon to law enforcement agencies is co-sponsored by Senators Schatz (D-HI), Murkowski (R-AK), Harris (D-CA), and Paul (R-KY). Such weapons and equipment, donated from the military through the current “1033” program, have increased the militarized presence of local police departments. Instead of increasing public safety, the use of military rifles, armored vehicles, aircraft and other equipment has been found to make police violence more prevalent without increasing the safety of officers or reducing crime. On the House side, a similar amendment (#622) is offered by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) with many co-sponsors.

The Coalition on Human Needs sent a letter to all members of Congress supporting both these amendments.