The United States Will Spend $3.5 Trillion Without Batting an Eye—as Long as It's on War.

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A new report from Brown University's Costs of War project is a reminder that cost concerns around the reconciliation bill just don't add up.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin jumped on the television on Sunday to announce that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is aware he won't have Manchin's crucial 50th vote on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that Democrats have been cooking up. He cited the amount of money already pumped into the economy through previous pandemic relief bills, what he considers the threat of rising inflation, and, of course, The National Debt. But the problem above all seems to be the price tag. It's big! That's a lot of money, though it should be noted it's spread out over the next 10 years. And also, it's not actually that much money if you examine what the United States is capable of spending while scarcely batting an eye.

Take, for example, war. In total, according to the Costs of War project from Brown University, the U.S. has spent over $8 trillion over two decades fighting its post-9/11 wars. But more than that, literally, Brown's researchers found the Pentagon has spent $14 trillion since the start of the War in Afghanistan as part of a new investigation into where the money went. That is to say, who enjoyed the Profits of War? The answer is defense contractors, who have received between one third and one half of that cash. In fact, the beneficiaries were a handful of firms in particular. Five companies—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman—have secured between a quarter and a third of all Pentagon contracts in that time frame. The $75 billion Lockheed took home in 2020 is more than one-and-a-half times the entire State Department budget. As you may have suspected, we spend a great deal more on our efforts to make war than those to make peace.

There's always money for some things. MANDEL NGAN Getty Images

And war makes for looser oversight: according to the 2011 Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, cited by Costs of War, between $31 billion and $60 billion was squandered in those theaters through waste,…
Jack Holmes
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