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Senate defeats Sanders’ attempt to cut defense spending

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaking at a town meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The Senate on Wednesday easily defeated an attempt by Sen. Bernie Sanders to cut 10% from the spending authorized in the annual defense bill and moved closer to passing the $740 billion legislation.

Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said the United States spends more on the military “than the next 11 nations combined” and could use $74 billion in defense savings to help struggling Americans.

“We don’t need more nuclear weapons,” the two-time Democratic presidential candidate said. “We don’t need more cruise missiles. We don’t need more fighter jets. But what we do need in this country desperately is more health care, more housing, more child care and better schools.”

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the co-author of the defense bill, spoke against Sanders’ amendment on Tuesday, when it was first offered.

Inhofe said comparisons to other nations’ defense budgets were invalid because they don’t include compensation for military personnel.

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And he said Sanders’ amendment “exempts military personnel pay and the Defense Health program, which means this amendment is actually equivalent to a 14 percent cut to the rest of the defense budget.

“That 14 percent means real cuts to purchasing critical equipment like planes, submarines and ships.

“This means cuts to nuclear modernization and key research that helps us stay competitive with China and Russia. This means cuts to military construction — including schools for military kids, to programs that support military families, and to programs that support our troops’ morale and welfare.”

The amendment failed by a vote of 23 to 77, with all Republicans and about half the Democrats opposed.

Inhofe’s bill cleared a procedural hurdle on Wednesday and is expected to be approved as early as Thursday.

The House approved its own bill on Tuesday by an overwhelming margin; the House also defeated an amendment calling for a 10% reduction in spending authorization.

Both bills include a 3% pay increase for uniformed personnel and more provisions to improve privately-run base housing and hold companies accountable for problems.

National media reports have highlighted severe problems at private housing at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma County and issues encountered by tenants in getting repairs.

The defense bill last year included a tenant’s bill of rights and gave the Defense Department more oversight.

Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Oklahoma City, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that the bill this year “takes the next step by providing our service members and their families with protections to make them whole again.

“This bill will reimburse families for lost property due to substandard military housing, increase transparency, and protect families from unsafe housing, all while holding housing companies accountable.”

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© 2020 The Oklahoman