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What’s In The John McCain Endless War Spending Bill That Trump Signed

President Donald Trump signed a $717 billion military spending bill on August 14. What made headlines was not the size of the bill or what is in the bill. Rather, most were upset that Trump did not thank Senator John McCain, whose name was put on the bill by his colleagues in Congress to honor him.

On CNN, Jake Tapper, host of “The Lead,”  said Trump thanked “a laundry list of people before officially signing the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. One person who wasn’t on that list of people that he thanked? Outspoken Trump critic and the namesake of the bill, Senator John McCain. You know, the decorated war hero, who was a prisoner of war, continues to serve as a United States senator, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.”

“The bill the president signed is called the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. No mention of him by the president today,” Tapper added. “Since President Trump would not do it, let us here on ‘The Lead’ congratulate Senator John McCain and his family and thank him for his service to the country.”

Tapper’s performance was a reminder of how the United States establishment press is indifferent to the ballooning of the military industrial-complex that occurs each year.

Many liberals were also outraged. Again, they were not upset that the war-making budget of the U.S. is expanding by hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, Steve Benen at MSNBC.com wrote, “It would have cost Trump nothing to say a few kind words about the ailing senator, and it might have gained him quite a bit.”

“Had the president recognized McCain’s service and sacrifices, many observers would’ve taken note of Trump’s willingness to take the high road,” Benen added.

But what is in the $717 military spending bill that Trump signed? What military contractors benefit from this legislation that only 10 senators and 66 representatives voted against?

The bill authorizes $921 million for military construction in “overseas contingency operations,” which is the Pentagon’s euphemism for empire-building or war-making in countries and regions around the world.

That figure is a 23 percent increase from the $748 million in the military spending bill for fiscal year 2018.

As Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for Common Sense wrote in 2017, this continues a practice President Barack Obama’s administration employed, where projects are moved “off budget” and do not count toward Budget Control Act caps. However, the military projects this slush fund pays for still add considerably to the country’s trillions of dollars in debt.

Sixty-nine million dollars is appropriated for a high value detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, which is a part of Trump’s agenda to not close the prison camps and continue to use facilities to hold detainees.

It extends the Pentagon’s authority to train and equip Syrian opposition groups with arms, which has fueled war in Syria.

Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who voted against the bill, opposed a section of the bill that gives Defense Secretary James Mattis the authority to draft a strategy to “counter the destabilizing activities of Iran.” She contended it authorized the U.S. military to go to war.

“The provision does not define what destabilizing activities they want our troops and taxpayer dollars to counter. It does not define a clear objective or end-state for our troops to achieve,” Gabbard stated. “In addition, this provision shuts the American people out from this decision entirely by circumventing Congress’s constitutional responsibility to declare war and giving unilateral power and unending authorization to ‘counter Iran’ to this and future administrationswithout defining in any way, shape, or form what the objective really is.”

Both Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican Senator Mike Lee voted against the bill. They’ve demanded Mattis disclose the scope of U.S. military involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen.

Remarkably, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein voted against the military spending bill because of provisions that remove “congressional oversight for building future nuclear weapons.”

“I don’t believe any president needs more nuclear weapons, but I’m particularly troubled by this administration’s statements that it would consider using low-yield weapons to fight so-called ‘limited’ nuclear wars,” Feinstein declared. “Building nuclear weapons for a role beyond deterrence is incredibly reckless. There is no such thing as a ‘limited’ nuclear war. Once a nuclear weapon is used, it’s game over.”

Trump will have funds available in fiscal year 2019 for a military parade. It also accelerates the Pentagon’s militarization of space by establishing a structure under Strategic Command for a force for “space warfighting,” creating a boondoggle for military contractors.

According to the Republican Policy Committee’s summary, the bill appropriates $360 million for Stryker A1 combat vehicles—an increase of $338.1 million. General Dynamics, which was recently awarded a $258 million “contract modification” by the Pentagon to upgrade 116 Stryker flat-bottom vehicles to the Stryker A1 configuration,” will benefit.

It grants “multiyear procurement authorities” for the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft (Boeing), Lockheed Martin C130 Super Hercules aircraft, and Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye aircraft.

Congress appropriated $1.8 billion for the Boeing Super Hornet and $903 million for the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye.

It earmarks $1.13 billion for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

As the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported, “The F-35 has now entered an unprecedented seventeenth year of continuing redesign, test deficiencies, fixes, schedule slippages, and cost overruns. And it’s still not at the finish line.”

“Numerous missteps along the way—from the fact that the two competing contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, submitted ‘flyoff’ planes that were crude and undeveloped ‘technology demonstrators’ rather than following the better practice of submitting fully functional prototypes, to concurrent acquisition malpractice that has prevented design flaws from being discovered until after production models were built—have led to where we are now,” POGO added.

Another billion will further enable the Pentagon to hide cost overruns and conceal developmental issues.

Bloomberg reported in February that Trump would seek 24 Boeing Super Hornets, which reversed a decision by President Barack Obama’s administration to no longer purchase the fighter from Boeing. The Navy is trying to make up for the fact that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters are not yet ready for deployment.

The Navy plans to procure a total of 75 E-2 Hawkeye aircraft from Northrop Grumman, and 45 were already manufactured. The remaining aircraft will feature “aerial refueling capability.”

The bill appropriates $452 million for Boeing’s Apache Block III helicopters, and more than a billion for Lockheed Martin’s UH-60 Blackhawk M Model helicopters. It also earmarks over a billion for the Pentagon’s M1 Abrams Tanks upgrade program, which will benefit General Dynamics.

General Dynamics already was granted a contract from the Army to upgrade 100 Abrams “main battle tanks.” In January 2018, it was reported that the military contractor was not only upgrading the tanks for the U.S. but also Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

When it comes to drones, the military spending bill appropriates $60 million for the Army’s Gray Eagle system, which benefits General Atomics and Raytheon.

Remarkably, the bill increases the funds for General Atomics’ MQ1 Predator drones from $87 million to more than $100 million. The initial request was for $43 million, but during conference, that number was raised over 100 percent to $103,326,000.

According to OpenSecrets.org, as of August 13, Boeing donated $2.9 million in 2018 to candidates, party committees, other political action committees, or outside spending groups. They ranked 62 out of 16,585 companies or organizations whose PACs or employees and their families that made contributions. The corporation spent $7.5 million on lobbying in 2018 and $16.7 million on lobbying in 2017, ranking tenth out of 3,846 companies or organizations. It donated over $2 million to incumbent senators and representatives.

General Atomics donated $941,000 in 2018. They ranked 273. The corporation spent $2.7 million on lobbying in 2018 and $4.7 million on lobbying in 2017, ranking 94th in 2018. The corporation gave over a half million to incumbents.

General Dynamics donated $2.4 million in 2018. They ranked 84. The corporation spent $5.9 million on lobbying in 2018 and $11.46 million in 2017, ranking twenty-sixth. The corporation gave over $1.4 million to incumbents.

Lockheed Martin donated $3.4 million in 2018. They ranked 44. The corporation spent $6.8 million on lobbying in 2018, and $14.4 million in 2017, ranking sixteenth. The corporation gave over $2.3 million to incumbents.

Raytheon donated $2.2 million in 2018. They ranked 97. The corporation spent $2 million on lobbying in 2018 and $5 million in 2017, ranking eighty-fourth out of 3,645. The corporation donated over $1.2 million to incumbents.

Donations to incumbents are significant because defense corporations have a significant interest in maintaining the status quo. They want representatives and senators who have proven themselves to be dependable in delivering massive appropriations bills for what they manufacture, and they depend on the U.S. government to help them meet their shareholders’ expectations for growth.

Very few senators made statements critical of the military spending bill in its entirety, but Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who voted against the bill, called attention to how it will benefit the military industrial-complex.

“After Republicans in Congress spent almost $2 trillion in tax breaks that are overwhelmingly skewed to multinational corporations, they’re now pushing through legislation that green-lights billions more for open-ended military commitments,” Wyden stated.

Wyden was also concerned about the provisions for nuclear weapons. He also indicated he could not support a $700 billion bill without having an opportunity to vote for amendments “related to nuclear weapons, sexual assault in the military, presidential war powers, cybersecurity, and Buy America for important national security industries, among others.”

Much is made about how many trillions a program like Medicare For All would cost taxpayers. Everyone is always concerned about social welfare programs, including increasingly popular plans for free college tuition, and how much that would impact the country’s budget.

The best way to build support for these policy changes that would be important to millions of Americans is to emphasize how the country always has trillions for wars (as well as trillions for tax cuts and bailouts for corporations). But there never seems to be many who are concerned about how military spending continues to balloon.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."