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A trillion-dollar relief package proposed by Senate Republicans includes billions for new military equipment that have nothing to do with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Much of equipment, including ships and fighter jets, was defunded earlier this year to pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall.The HEALs act restores much of that lost funding and then some, in some cases earmarking even more money for key weapon systems than were originally taken away.

The U.S. military is set to receive billions of dollars in military equipment canceled earlier this year. The equipment, including F-35 fighter jets, C-130J transports, and fast transport ships were canceled in order to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The proposed equipment, which has little to no utility in fighting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is being criticized as classic pork barrel spending.

According to Business Insider, Republican members of the U.S. Senate have proposed the “HEALS” Act as an answer to the current COVID-19 pandemic. “HEALS” stands for “Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools.” The act, should it pass into law, will authorize $1 trillion in pandemic-related spending.

US President Donald Trump participates in a ceremony commemorating the 200th mile of border wall at the international border with Mexico in San Luis, Arizona, June 23, 2020.

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The HEALS Act includes nearly $30 billion in military spending. Much of the spending, NBC News points out, will restore programs that were gutted to pay for President Donald. J. Trump’s wall along the US-Mexico border. Trump repeatedly promised during his campaign and the early years of presidency that the wall would be funded by Mexico, though there was no real plan to do so.

Of the $30 billion earmarked for the Pentagon, $7 billion of the proposed spending is on military hardware canceled to make way for the U.S.-Mexico wall. The number includes $686 million earmarked to buy F-35A fighter jets for the U.S. Air Force and $740 million for C-130J Super Hercules transports.

Expeditionary Fast Transport USNS Burlington.

U.S. Navy photo by Brian Suriani

The HEALS act, according to U.S. Naval Institute News, will also include $1.45 billion for “four expeditionary medical ships,” hospital ships built on the Expeditionary Fast Transport hull. The EFT program was drained of $261 million to pay for Trump’s wall, while the new number increases that spending sixfold. While the U.S. Navy will soon need replacements for its two existing hospital ships, Mercy and Comfort, it’s not clear the EFT hull is the ideal choice for new hospital ships.

The two existing ships are built on oil tanker hulls and the EFT is a much smaller vessel. It’s worth noting that Expeditionary Fast Transport ships are built in Alabama, the home state of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, the architect of the HEALS Act.

One of the most striking funding proposals is for the U.S. Navy’s P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. As The Washington Post reports, the Trump administration took $180 million from the P-8 program saying the US Navy had enough planes and that the aircraft was a “congressional special interest item.” The HEALS Act includes more than $1 billion for the P-8 program.

U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicles in Finland, 2016.

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Other military spending slipped into HEALS includes $650 million for new A-10 Warthog jet wings, $375 million to upgrade the Army’s Stryker armored vehicle, $283 million for Apache attack helicopters, and $76 million for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system.

It’s not clear how anti-ballistic missile systems, fighter jets, and armored vehicles help an America badly rattled by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly looming crises in unemployment, debt and housing payments, child care, and other COVID-related costs. While defense contractors are employers and keep people working, much of the spending feels like a reward for the Pentagon for redirecting military spending to fund the border wall without complaint.

The HEALS Act faces significant opposition from Senate Democrats, with Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy characterizing it as a “billion dollar giveaway to the defense industry.”

Source: The Washington Post

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