Why Don’t We See Headlines Touting the Pentagon’s Hefty Price Tag?

Intense debate over the Build Back Better (BBB) legislation has triggered stern lectures by fiscal conservatives about government spending. The legislation, which hangs in the political balance between progressive lawmakers and conservative Democrats like Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, costs $1.75 trillion over 10 years in its present form, which is equivalent to $175 billion per year.

Compare this to President Joe Biden’s proposed military budget expenditure of $753 billion for the 2022 fiscal year. According to the Security Policy Reform Institute, “This amounts to an increase of well over $12 billion, meaning that Biden boosted Pentagon funding by an amount roughly equivalent to CDC’s entire annual budget.”

Extrapolating this figure over 10 years while accounting for the projected yearly increases—a good assumption considering that the military budget almost never loses its annual raise—predicts that American taxpayers will be footing almost $8 trillion on the “defense” slice of our budgetary pie in the coming decade.

Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, explained to me in an interview that “it’s amazing how hydraulic the system is.” By that he meant, “they cut $25 billion for home care” from the BBB bill. Meanwhile, he said, “Congress increased Biden’s increase to the military budget by $25 billion at roughly the same time.”

While the costs of the newly passed infrastructure funding bill that Biden signed into law and the yet-to-pass BBB legislation have been discussed ad nauseam on the front pages of major newspapers and in passionate debates on television networks, there is nary a peep from those same sources about the bloated military budget whose size continues to balloon year after year.

For example, this Washington Post article in late September headlined, “Biden, Pelosi embark on late scramble to save $1 trillion infrastructure bill” was one of many similarly billed pieces in major outlets through the end of the summer and early fall.

Imagine a headline casting implicit aspersions on the Pentagon’s funding. The fact that the size of the military budget is more than four times the size of the BBB legislation ought to be emblazoned across our papers. But we can’t imagine seeing such ideas being discussed in mainstream avenues because the military budget is considered sacrosanct—and not just by most lawmakers but also by corporate media outlets.

Semler pointed out that there are “two concepts of spending—social spending and military spending—that play by two separate sets of spending rules.”

Coming on the heels of national hand-wringing over the costs of legislation that directly benefits the American people, the tacit acceptance of a military budget many times the cost of the social spending is jarring—but only to those paying very close attention or reading independent media outlets.

An example of fair reporting is Huffington Post writer Akbar Shahid Ahmed’s article, whose headline reads in part, “The Pentagon Budget Costs 4 Times As Much As Biden’s Social Policy Bill.”

Another example is Prakash Nanda’s article published in a non-U.S. outlet called the EurAsian Times, and headlined, “Joe Biden’s $778B Defense Budget Goes Unnoticed But His $170B Social Agenda Triggers A Huge Debate.”

No such headlines appeared in major U.S. news outlets.

It’s not as if there is zero debate in the nation over our spending priorities. If corporate media outlets like the Washington Post were taking their cues from progressive lawmakers like Bernie Sanders, they might have reported on the Vermont senator’s recent tweet pointing out how, “It is beyond absurd that at the same time as our nation continues to spend more on the military than the next 12 nations COMBINED, we are told over and over that we cannot afford to invest in the needs of working class people here at home.”

But instead, the Post and other outlets have continually amplified the desires and demands of conservative Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), in story after story without following up on Manchin’s willingness to spend trillions of dollars on the Pentagon. An article pointing out the hypocrisy of fiscal conservatives and their blanket approval of military expenditures would practically write itself. It takes effort to avoid expressing such a narrative.

Even some U.S. residents see the absurdity of the silence over the military budget. Alice C. McCain, living in Washington state, wrote a letter to a local paper called the Kitsap Sun questioning the size of the military budget. She was able to see the clear contrast in priorities, writing, “Some of the same people who denounce the BBB plan as too expensive are eager to pass a bill giving the Pentagon $778 billion for one year, or nearly $8 trillion over ten years.”

She asks pointedly, “Why is it so hard to spend money on our country and its people, but so easy to dole out money for our military?” Her question is one that media outlets have judiciously avoided for years.

Organizations and think tanks like the Project on Government OversightNational Priorities Project, and Semler’s Security Policy Reform Institute routinely call out the unjustifiably large Pentagon budget, offering up rich statistical comparisons, none of which seems good enough for major media outlets to highlight in a serious manner.

Ultimately, media outlets appear invested in the same sort of imperialist ambitions as politicians do. Semler pointed out how, “the fear of Biden going into office was that the debate that him and [former President Donald] Trump had over who could be tougher, and more ‘manly’ over China, during the lead-up to the general election would spill over into Biden’s policy.”

That fear was justified. In June, Biden signed an executive order citing, “the threat posed by the military-industrial complex of the People’s Republic of China,” and has continued to drum up anti-China sentimentwhile proposing a military budget increase. The Post and other corporate media outlets dutifully buttress the logic of increasing the Pentagon budget with alarmist stories about China’s expanding nuclear arsenal.

“Social spending could follow the same rules as military spending in that there’s always enough money,” said Semler. “But because Congress is only choosing to spend a certain amount [on social spending], effectively, military spending is stealing from social spending.” Imagine seeing a top story in our major media reflecting such a radical and yet patently obvious notion.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV, Roku) and Pacifica stations KPFK, KPFA, and affiliates.