Progressives Stand Against Bloated $886 Billion Military Budget and Surveillance Overreach

The House recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2024, a staggering $886 billion military spending bill, amidst dissent from progressive lawmakers concerned about civil liberties and misplaced priorities. This bill, which now awaits President Joe Biden’s signature, drew criticism for not only its record-high funding for military expenses but also for extending a contentious mass surveillance measure.

In a vote that concluded at 310 to 118, 45 Democrats, including leading progressives like Representatives Pramila Jayapal, Barbara Lee, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, voiced their opposition. The Senate witnessed similar resistance with Senators Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders among the eight Democratic dissenters.

Representative Barbara Lee took to social media to highlight the dissonance in the government’s spending priorities, noting, “If we can spend $886B on the Pentagon, we can invest in anti-poverty programs… in a Green New Deal… in Medicare for All.” This sentiment echoes the frustration of many progressives who see the massive military budget as a missed opportunity to address pressing domestic issues.

Criticism also comes from groups like Public Citizen, with President Robert Weissman expressing dismay over the Pentagon’s consistent budget increases despite repeated audit failures. He underscored the irony of the military being the only department that consistently receives more funding, calling the $886 billion budget an embarrassment.

Adding to the controversy is the inclusion of a four-month extension of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This provision allows agencies like the NSA and FBI to conduct warrantless surveillance of both foreign nationals and American citizens, raising serious privacy concerns. Despite its original intention to monitor foreign terrorism threats, this measure has been repeatedly used to surveil American activists, journalists, and private citizens.

Elizabeth Goitein, Co-Director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, highlighted the overreach on social media, noting the government’s plan to conduct 270,000 “backdoor” searches on Americans’ communications within the extension period. She also pointed out that over 5,000 of these searches are expected to break Section 702’s rules.

This decision comes amid increasing calls for heightened surveillance of pro-Palestine advocates, often unjustly labeled as “terrorists” by Zionist factions and major U.S. institutions. The extension of such surveillance powers raises alarm for those advocating for civil rights and liberties.

While the Congressional Progressive Caucus rallied against the NDAA, primarily due to the Section 702 extension, their efforts ultimately fell short. The caucus leaders, in a memo, condemned the NDAA for its excessive defense spending, especially given the Pentagon’s consistent failure to pass independent audits.

As this bill moves forward, it not only highlights the vast divide in congressional priorities but also brings to light the growing concern over the expansion of military spending and surveillance powers at the expense of civil liberties and social welfare.