“Right now, the coronavirus is our greatest adversary,” they argued. “We must remain focused on combating the coronavirus and not on increasing military spending that already outpaces the next 10 closest nations combined.”
The left flank’s early opposition to increased defense spending could throw a wrench into House leaders’ aims to pass a bipartisan policy bill with fewer headaches than last year. House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the committee’s top Republican, have said they want a bipartisan bill.
The letter was organized by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Both are critics of the defense budget, which has soared to more than $700 billion. The letter was first reported by The Washington Post.
In a statement, the lawmakers implied that they would vote against the legislation if it didn’t cut defense spending. They noted that while 29 lawmakers signed the letter, only 19 would need to vote “no” to tank the defense bill, assuming Republicans don’t support it.
House Democrats passed their first defense bill in the majority last year without Republican support. Negotiations with Senate Republicans dragged on for months, and progressive lawmakers were largely dissatisfied with the product. A compromise bill dropped Democratic proposals to rein in Trump’s war powers, overturn the administration’s transgender troop ban and block money for the border wall.
Progressive lawmakers have signaled they will push many of those same issues again, which would drive House Republicans to once again oppose the bill.
Liberal Democrats have also sought to put the brakes on a buildup in military spending that was launched by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.
Republican defense hawks would almost certainly cry foul if Democrats attempted to cut the defense budget. Trump and congressional leaders locked in a $741 billion topline for fiscal 2021 as part of two-year deal on spending. GOP lawmakers have argued that level still doesn’t adequately address the needs of the military as it pivots from the Middle East toward competition with China and Russia.