Touted by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer as good for “parents, veterans, nurses, workers” and for “vital services,” a sweeping $1.66 trillion “omnibus” spending package passed the Senate with bipartisan support Dec. 22 and the House the next day. Under cover of posturing about supporting Ukraine, the heart of the bill is military spending to strengthen the U.S. rulers’ readiness to defend its position as top imperialist power.
Over half the money is allocated to Washington’s war machine, up 10% from last year. It includes building three destroyers and nine other warships; $139.7 billion for high-tech weapons, such as hypersonic missiles; an emergency waiver so the Pentagon can replenish its arsenal to replace weaponry sent to Ukraine as fast as possible; and cash to buy 61 F-35 fighter jets.
New contracts were set immediately, starting with $1 billion to Lockheed Martin for completing delivery of 118 F-35 warplanes. Earlier in the month, contracts of $497 million for CH-47F helicopters went to Boeing and another $431 million to Lockheed Martin for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.
The spending will maintain Washington’s “fighting edge over adversaries like China and Russia,” Democratic Sen. Jon Tester from Montana boasted. Whenever Democrats and Republicans talk about protecting “American interests,” they’re talking about the profits and political interests of the ruling capitalist class. Following Moscow’s Ukraine invasion, Washington, like all other capitalist powers worldwide, is seeking new allies and stepping up preparations for conflicts and wars to come.
These include mounting tensions in the Pacific, as the Chinese rulers threaten to use their military to bring self-governing Taiwan under their domination. In the Middle East, Tehran is driving to defend its moves to extend its reactionary military and economic reach across the region. It’s acquiring nuclear weapons and threatens to destroy the Jewish state of Israel. Underlying these clashes, the U.S. rulers and rival powers face mounting competition for markets and resources, as the global economy slows down and more struggles by workers, farmers and the oppressed break out.
Assault on constitutional freedoms
The U.S. rulers’ provisions for more wars abroad are an extension of their profit-driven assaults on working people at home. These are accompanied by efforts to refurbish the FBI — their main political police — to use in growing attacks on constitutional freedoms crucial for working-class struggles.
Some $2.6 billion in the government package is allocated to U.S. prosecutions related to the Jan. 6, 2021, melee at the Capitol. So far more than 900 people have been arrested. Several figures have been charged with violating notorious thought-control laws like seditious conspiracy, which target people for what they say, not what they do.
A further $11.3 billion is lavished on the FBI, tasked with targeting so-called domestic terrorists. No matter who they go after first, history shows their main target is the unions and working-class political organizations like the Socialist Workers Party.
For the first time in nine years the National Labor Relations Board gets an increase in funding. The raise was supported and praised by AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler.
But the NLRB isn’t neutral, much less a friend of labor. It’s part of a capitalist government committed to serving the needs of the exploiting class, and to restricting and punishing fighting workers and our unions. It does so under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Just one example is the $13.3 million fine it imposed on the United Mine Workers last August for the “crime” of exercising the right to strike at Warrior Met’s mine in Brookwood, Alabama.
Gains workers make are not a result of the workings of the NLRB or any other government agency. They’re won through using union power to fight in the interest of all working people.
The spending bill slashes some social programs that were extended during the pandemic. Beginning in March, workers who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to get food for themselves and their families will see benefits cut, on average by $82 per person per month, just as food prices continue to soar. In April, state governments will be able to throw people enrolled in Medicaid during the pandemic off the rolls. Up to 19 million could lose Medicaid benefits, CNN reports.
To garner enough votes to pass the bill, its bipartisan sponsors grafted $15.3 billion in “earmarks” onto it. These are over 7,200 pet projects legislators inserted to build their public image and curry political favor in their home states. They include adding to the series of buildings and other facilities named after Nancy Pelosi and a hiking trail in Georgia named after Michelle Obama.
Some are political measures that would be unlikely to pass if submitted on their own. First rejected by Congress in 2009, Bernie Sanders’ Worker Ownership, Readiness and Knowledge Act is stuffed into the spending package. It provides cash to co-operatives and companies that expand workers’ stock ownership, advancing the illusion that capitalist exploitation can be rejiggered to serve the interests of working people. The bill contains changes to the Electoral Count Act to make it harder to block the certification of a presidential election.
The mammoth 4,155 page document is aimed in its entirety at strengthening the capitalist rulers’ government, not protecting working people from the spreading capitalist crisis. New unemployment claims have risen since September. Walmart, PepsiCo, Ford Motors and Amazon all recently cut jobs.
These layoffs, and today’s inflation, come on top of years of deteriorating living conditions. Life expectancy fell in 2021 to the lowest level since 1996. Deaths from drug overdoses have risen fivefold over the last 20 years. Gambling addiction — widely promoted in newspaper sports sections — has soared. As these conditions continue to bear down on working people, Socialist Workers Party candidates get a hearing when they explain why workers and our unions need to organize independently of the exploiters on all the questions we face.