GOP Chooses $120 Million For Military Bands Over Food Assistance For Low-Income Americans (Updated)

House Democrats recently made a small attempt at trying to find savings in the federal budget by cutting $120 million from the Pentagon’s $320 million budget for military bands. However, House Republicans yesterday approved a measure to strip that provision from the defense appropriations bill.

Rep. John Carter (R-TX), the measure’s sponsor, said yesterday on the House floor that trimming the band budget was a “tragedy” because military bands “are an integral part to the patriotism that keeps our soldiers hearts beating fast.”

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who sponsored the measure to cut the band funding, and Rep. Jarold Nadler (D-NY) said the money could be used to feed low-income Americans. “I love military bands,” Nadler said, “but people have to eat”:

McCOLLUM: At a time when we are cutting back on WIC, which is a suppliments for children. At a time when we’re cutting back on education and health care expenses, I kind of felt I had a duty as an appropriator to look at oppporuntiees in which we could cut back on spending. […]

NADLER: Over the break we just had I went to a food pantry operated by a church in Coney Island. There was a line out the door about 70 or 80 people and they were giving food packets 3 days out of every month. Three days out of every month to try to figure out how to scrounge enough money to give food packets 4 days out of every month and of course we are cutting the budget for women infants and children…we’re cutting the budget for food stamps. We can maintain the military bands and not expand them. We have to keep this in perspective. […] I love military bands, but people have to eat.

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Carter suggested that McCollum and the Democrats wanted to eliminate military bands entirely but that’s not the case. McCollum’s measure would still leave a $200 million budget for the bands and save $120 million.


Based on figures provided by CAP’s Half in Ten project, that $120 million could provide monies to fund crucial food assistance programs the GOP already has on the chopping block, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program as well as the Emergency Food Assistance Program. As ThinkProgress’s Pat Garofalo noted, “The CSFP provides food assistance to 600,000 low-income families every month, 96 percent of whom are seniors, while the TEFAP ‘provides our nation’s emergency food bank network with food commodities and storage and distribution support.’”


The Hill reported in May that according to one analyst, military bands could cost the Pentagon $50 billion over the next 50 years.


“We have more people in military bands than they have in the Foreign Service,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said frequently, borrowing the phrase from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. While it’s unclear if this figure is wholly accurate, the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus found last year that a beginning Foreign Service Officer makes between $45–50,000 per year while becoming a member of one of the military’s special bands “gets you a ranking of staff sergeant or the equivalent and an annual salary of $51,000 for single people and $58,000 for married ones.”


This afternoon, the House passed McCollum’s amendment to the defense appropriations bill to cut $124 million from the Pentagon’s military bands budget