Questioning the Pentagon’s Massive Budget

Questioning the Pentagon’s Massive Budget

By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, January 13, 2022

Happy Thursday!Lots of big, important things are happening, but we’ll take just a moment to note that the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it will no longer regulate French dressing, revoking a standard defining what qualified for that label in place since 1950. There’s a 14-page explanation of the decision here. Really.

Supreme Court Blocks Biden’s Covid Vaccine Mandate for Large Employers

In a major blow to President Joe Biden’s effort to combat the spread of Covid-19, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected his vaccine mandate for large private employers, which would have affected more than 84 million workers.

In a 6-3 vote, the court’s conservatives expressed doubts that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration had the legal authority to impose a broad mandate on companies with 100 or more employees. Workers would have been required to get vaccinated against Covid-19 or submit to regular testing for the virus, and to wear masks in the workplace.

“Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the court said.

At the same time, in a 5-3 vote, the court upheld a similar mandate affecting roughly 17 million health care workers at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding. “Ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm,” the court said in a separate opinion.

A victory for business interests and conservatives: The legal effort to halt the mandate was led by 26 business groups and 27 Republican-led states, who sued OSHA, charging that the agency was exceeding its legal authority.

“Today’s ruling protects our individual rights and states’ rights to pursue the solutions that work best for their citizens,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who helped organize the suit.

Several provisions of the mandate were set to take effect this week, although enforcement was not expected to begin until February. The Biden administration estimated that the mandate would spur 22 million additional vaccinations and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations and more than 6,000 deaths.

Biden responds: Saying that the ruling “does not stop me from using my voice as president to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy,” Biden encouraged states and companies to issue mandates on their own.

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law,” Biden said in a statement. “As a result of the court’s decision, it is now up to states and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated.”

Biden Announces New Plans to Combat Pandemic

Notwithstanding the setback from the Supreme Court on his vaccine mandate, Biden on Thursday announced new initiatives in the federal government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Declaring that wearing a mask during the pandemic is a “patriotic duty,” Biden said he has plans to distribute free "high-quality masks" to all Americans, with more details on the program coming next week. He also ordered the federal government to purchase an additional 500 million Covid tests, to be shipped directly to households at no cost.

Biden also announced that he is sending more medical teams from the military to six hard-hit areas. The teams will support the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Henry Ford Hospital near Detroit, University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey.

Biden said the deployments are in addition to the hundreds of medical personnel already sent to 24 states, as well as 14,000 National Guard members who are assisting medical teams throughout the country.

Column of the Day: Questioning the Pentagon’s Massive Budget

New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo slams lawmakers for approving $768 billion in 2022 funding for the Pentagon — $24 billion more than the White House requested.

Manjoo argues that the military “has become the epitome of governmental dysfunction, self-dealing and overspending” and that, despite that track record, many in Congress fail to question whether the military really needs all the money it gets. “Given all the challenges we face at home, does it make any sense to keep spending so many hundreds of billions on the Pentagon?” he asks. “And even just in terms of fighting wars, can anyone be satisfied with the way the military is managing its funds? The Pentagon has never passed an audit and says it may not be able to until 2028.”

Here’s more from Manjoo:

“In 2020 the U.S. military’s budget accounted for almost 40 percent of the world’s military expenditures. This level of spending has long been excessive, but after a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more Americans than any war we fought, continuing to throw money at the military is an act of willful disregard for the most urgent threats we face.

“According to a projection by the Congressional Budget Office, Congress is projected to spend about $8.5 trillion for the military over the next decade — about half a trillion more than is budgeted for all nonmilitary discretionary programs combined (a category that includes federal spending on education, public health, scientific research, infrastructure, national parks and forests, environmental protection, law enforcement, courts, tax collection, foreign aid, homeland security and health care for veterans). …”

“We have long national debates about whether it makes sense to spend on things like parental leave or college tuition, but lawmakers seldom expect such rigor from the Defense Department. … There is ample evidence that Congress’s reluctance to ask basic questions of the Pentagon has harmed, rather than helped, the military’s effectiveness.”

Quote of the Day

“We are seeing the strongest rebound in growth and decline in unemployment of any recovery in the past five decades. Over the past year, unemployment has fallen by 2.8 percentage points, and growth is estimated to be around 5 1/2 percent, according to a variety of private forecasts.

“But inflation is too high, and working people around the country are concerned about how far their paychecks will go. Our monetary policy is focused on getting inflation back down to 2 percent while sustaining a recovery that includes everyone. This is our most important task.”

— Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard, in prepared remarks for an appearance before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Thursday. Nominated by President Biden to serve as vice chair of the central bank, Brainard told lawmakers that the Fed could begin raising interest rates as soon as March as part of its effort to reduce inflation.


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