est 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.

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, fraud, and abuse. "The reaction to the 9/11 attacks created a political climate that opened the floodgates to massive increases in Pentagon spending, with few questions asked," said William Hartung, who authored the report. The Pentagon was never independently audited until 2017, and the results have not been promising since.

Of course, you've got to spend money to make money. Weapons manufacturers have spent $2.5 billion on lobbying efforts over the two decades since 9/11, a sub-industry that helps keep the main event going. This apparently supports power lunches and more for a legion of 700 lobbyists a year. No wonder Congress has been known to allocate more money than the Pentagon even asks for, and we end up spending $80 million a piece on jets that are so far functionally useless. This is the problem when acquisitions decisions are not made on the merits of the product in an open competitive market. (The no-bid contract was a staple of our Mideast war efforts.) This is a tale as old as time, or at least as old as the Military-Industrial Complex: The Gun by C.J. Chivers documents how, when American GIs were outgunned by North Vietnamese AK-47s, the Pentagon turned to a California company for what would become the M16 because of some sales schmoozing. Unlike with the Soviet development of the AK, there was no internal competition to theoretically yield the best product. The guns were poorly suited for the task in Vietnam, and American soldiers could be found picking up AKs over there and using those to defend themselves.


All this is to say that the United States has no aversion to spending money. Maybe people who will benefit from provisions of the Democrats' $3.5 trillion bill should hire 700 lobbyists. If you think the U.S. should join other advanced democracies in offering financial support to parents, including direct payments and universal pre-K and help with childcare expenses; if you think people should be able to go to community college for two years, tuition free, or you think we should expand Pell grants and support for historically Black universities; if you think we, like citizens of other advanced democracies, all deserve guaranteed paid parental, family, or medical leave; if you back adding dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare, and attempting to close the Medicaid gap, and enhancing Affordable Care Act subsidies to get more people coverage; if you think Medicare should be able to negotiate drug prices to try to bring them down across the board; if, as you watch escalating natural disasters wash over different parts of the country, you think we should move towards rapidly decarbonizing our energy and transportation infrastructure; then you might be interested in this bill.

And it's less, over the next 10 years, than we've been spending on war. And there are provisions in it to cut into the price tag by bringing in more revenue. A new estimate out Monday from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found the tax changes in the bill would bring in a net $920 billion—$2.23 trillion of tax increases minus $1.31 trillion in tax breaks, shifting the burden towards the wealthy. But even if the bill didn't bring in a dollar, the argument we cannot invest in our own citizens, and make life a little less miserable here in the richest country in the history of the world, and attempt to create a broader base of prosperity in the next American generation, just does not add up. We've had no issue putting bullets and bombs on the credit card. Now it's time to send a kid to college.

Anything less will represent a profound moral failure for this country, a squandered chance at some measure of redemption that ultimately could spell doom for an American republic already teetering on the edge of viability as a polity because it has been destabilized, in part, by the extremely unequal distribution of resources within. Here's hoping Joe Manchin is, like with the American Rescue Plan, just trying to get his pound of flesh taken out of the bill to show he is an Independent Democrat who doesn't just toe the party line.

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