Friday three Republican Senators stepped up to stop the massive tax cuts for the rich that would provide loss of health care to 16 million or more middle class Americans. These heroes were uniquely powerful members of the key Armed Services and Defense Appropriations Committees. Lesser Senators were intimidated by the power structure. When half the discretionary budget goes to one agency, the Pentagon, members of those two Senate Committees are uniquely powerful in the whole Congress, including their counterparts in the same two House Committees. Here is the rest of the story of how those four key committees and people from the high military spending states have come to dominate national politics like no one else. Senate legend John McCain was chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee from the 13th ranked military state, Arizona. Lisa Murkowski of third military ranked Alaska and Sue Collins of ninth military ranked Maine, are sixth and fifth ranked Republicans on the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee. Armed Services can favor weapons systems, but ultimately Appropriations funds them. Arguably, the 122 members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Defense Appropriations Committees are the most powerful in Congress, other than the overall Leadership like Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell. Among the overall leadership, McConnell of seventh ranked Kentucky is second ranked Republican on Defense Appropriations and Senate Assistant Minority Leader Dick Durbin of lowly 43rd ranked military state Illinois is Ranking Member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee.
Power from the Military Down
Seventy two years after the epic hegemonic Second World War, all three branches of the American government are dominated by the military budget. All presidents elected during the Cold War came from “above average military spending per capita” states. Based on the 1984 data it looks like two term presidents come from states about twice the military average and one term presidents came from states about the military average. Today that power level has subsided only slightly, but still about 75% of the cabinet (78% for Clinton), Supreme Court, and congressional leadership positions come from the half of the country that is high military spending by state. And the military level tends to rise higher among parties in power and drop a little lower among parties out of power. The general rule seems to be, the closer to the top, the more direct the military money connection. The key is not your states total military spending, it is your states per capita military spending that indicates the mutual dependency between the politician and the military. Democrats who tend to oppose military spending and wars, tend to do so only somewhat, often leaving claims about military spending out of their websites and campaign materials. Even Obama who opposed the Iraq War had to triple troop levels in Afghanistan to compensate. Bernie Sanders opposed wars easily but made no mention of cutting the military budget to fund his 14 budget proposals on the campaign website. Jesse Jackson took 14 issues to the 1988 Democratic Convention, each had some accommodation except the 10% military freeze cut. Democrats tend to cut weapons funding but not military payroll. This kind of bowing to the military god goes on and on, leaving many in the peace movement angry at Democrats despite their 90% voting record in congress on small cuts in the military budget.
Women and the Military
When you look at the four key committee 122 military power positions in congress, 29 are filled by women, about 24% of the total, very close to their overall percentage in the congress. But a closer look reveals the glass ceiling operates similar to the overall discrimination against those from low military states. For example, when the Senate Republicans crafted health care bills in secret recently, no women participated. When you break down the percentage of women on the big four committees from high military states versus low military states, 21% are from high military and 29% from low military states. Military state Republicans are 13% women, while nonmilitary state Republicans are 17% women. Military state Democrats are 31% women, low military state Democrats are 44% women. Joni Ernst of Iowa overcame these obstacles to be a powerful woman Republican in the Senate, but it took her being a lifetime member of the Army Reserve or Guard rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel while five of the six states she served in were high military. That’s how you overcome coming from the 46th ranked military state of Iowa to sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Military Economic Changes
The biggest change in military state rank from 2010 with the Democrats in power to 2015 with the Republicans in power was Mississippi rising 23 places from 29th to 6th place. You can thank the Senate Appropriation Committee Chairman and Defense Appropriations Committee Chairman Republican Thad Cochran for that spectacular move. The big move for a Democrat is Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, who is ranking member of Armed Services and also sits on Defense Appropriations, so Rhode Island went up 16 places from 26th to 12th. Maine had bipartisan teamwork going for it as it rose 14 places from 23rd to 9th. Republican Senator Sue Collins is on Defense Appropriations while Independent (who caucuses with the Democrats) Senator Angus King is on Armed Services. In the other direction, Wisconsin is a spectacular falling 23 places from 21st to 44th, where Senator Tammy Baldwin seeks to reverse that collapse of the popular Iraq war IUD proof truck sales from Wisconsin manufacturer “Oshkosh Truck”. She has moved over from Budget to Defense Appropriations. Typical Democrat, she is shy about the move with no mention on her website, as Madison Truax field will soon be adding F-35s. She mentions Agriculture Appropriations on her website, her other subcommittee on Appropriations. She wants more Wisconsin contracts without angering her liberal base as a member of the Progressive Caucus, a tough juggling act. Health care has always been her top priority and a committee assignment, but coming from the Dairy State, Agriculture Appropriations is also very important for the upcoming 2018 re-election bid.
While the 22 high military states have equal population to the low military states, they have 70% of the military budget compared to 30% for the low military states. The representation on the four key military committees in congress is also split about the same, 66% from high military and 34% from the low military states. It has the appearance of all of them being proportionately representative of the military money. When the White House threatens to punish Alaska for Murkowski’s vote on health care, the threat rings hollow because she not only sits on Defense Appropriations, but the other Senator from Alaska, Sullivan, sits on Armed Services, just like the situation in Maine with Sue Collins. Alaska will continue it’s long standing position among the top three with Virginia and Hawaii long after the current President is gone. Another powerful Senate tandem is Feinstein of California and Murray of Washington who represent drone production and research respectively, and both sit on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. California military rank has risen 9 places from 26th to 17th from 2010 to 2015. California has a total of ten members on the key four committees, while Washington has three.
For further reading, here is the detailed link to my very popular peer reviewed entry on the “Political Economy of War” in the SAGE Encyclopedia of War:
Dr. Peace, Professor Robert Reuschlein, Real Economy Institute