Checks and Balances or Endless War

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Recent events have many questioning whether there remains an overall system of checks and balances in the US. Congress has assumed  responsibility for being a check on the balance of power in relation to war in this country. Previously it has fallen on Congress to declare war as well as allocate funding for war.  

In the past year there has been a lot of back and forth about the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. There have been many provisions sought from both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Some of those provisions included curtailing arm sales to Saudi Arabia to fuel their war in Yemen, prohibiting US military intervention in Iran, preventing funds for a border wall on the Southern US border and reevaluating the Authorization of the Use of Military Force Act of 2001. 

Unfortunately many of those provisions were not included in the passage of the $738 billion Defense Budget. What was included were a $22 billion increase from the previous year, the new US Space Force and fully funding the president’s request for nuclear modernization without any restrictions on the military’s ability to deploy low yield nuclear weapons. Despite the Trump administration’s declaration of winding down military actions overseas, defense current spending is approaching levels as they were at the height of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

According to Cost of War project at the Watson Institute at Brown University, The US has spent $6.4 trillion on wars since 2001 with counter terrorism operations spaning over 80 countries. With the War on Terror, emergency military spending Overseas Contingency Operations (OSO); seperate from the base budget which includes funding for 12 initiatives ranging from nuclear modernization, missile defense, munitions and Strike Fighter programs.

It appears that the leverage that Congress has in holding the purse for military spending has been eroding.  Over the past few years,the Trump administration has bypassed Congressional approval for military spending and even Pentagon requests by shifting money between the base budget and the OSO, which had been previously used primarily for wars abroad. This was how funding for the border wall was enabled. A new category in FY 2020 was created for this purpose titled “Emergency Requirements”.  A paper by the Costs of War states, “Thus, in FY 2020, only about $25 billion of the $173.8 billion OCO request were designated as for Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syrian and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan.” 

Congress has not been in the position of declaring war often. The last formally declared war in the US was World War Il. The other declared wars were World War I (the war to end all wars), the War of 1812, the Mexican War and the Spanish American War. Of the 5 declared wars, 4 of the wars were declared after hostilities had begun already.  On at least 125 occasions, US presidents have not sought congressional approval for military authorization. 

After so many conflicts without congressional approval, the War Powers Resolution of 1973 became federal law. It was intended to check the presidential power to commit troops to armed conflict without the consent of Congress. It states that the president must notify Congress within 48 hours of military action and it forbids armed forces remaining more than 60 days without Congressional Authorization of Use of Military Forces AUMF. Congress’ approval of AUMF in 2001 opened the door to the approval of the War on Terror and every president since in justifying military actions. President Obama asked Congress for a AUMF in Syria which they rejected. 

Many members of congress profit from ongoing wars both financially and politically. A recent article concluded that  a third of the members of the Defense Subcommittee of Appropriations Committee own stocks in the top military contractors. This is the group that is in charge of deciding what programs and companies to award DoD money.

History has shown that we cannot rely upon Congress to be a check to the balance of war. It appears that there is a blank check for war and that the balance has become a deficit never before imagined. I am grateful for all the War Tax Resisters who refuse to give their paychecks or taxes to these endless wars. The words of President Eisenhower’s Farewell address come to mind while thinking of younger generations who we are passing the buck to  and the environment laid waste by war:

“As we peer into society’s future, we-you and I, and our government-must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.” President Eisenhower 1961

The US Constitution gives congress control over the military purse and declaration of war if it continues to abdicate its responsibilities, the purse has a hole in it and it opens the way to endless war. 

Post by Chrissy Kirchhoefer

4 thoughts on “Checks and Balances or Endless War”

  1. Larry Bassett says:

    Terrific article and information!

    1. Chrissy Kirchhoefer says:

      Thanks Larry!

  2. Ginny Schneider says:

    Great blog, Chrissy!

    1. Chrissy Kirchhoefer says:

      Thanks Ginny!

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