Viewing the recent House of Representatives debate on the 2013 Defense Appropriations bill (HR 5856) was as disorienting as if living in an alternate reality with little acknowledgement that while the federal deficit continues to increase, some of the country's once-great cities are in the throes of critical demise. Spending like drunken sailors with no thought of tomorrow, Congress added more than $3 billion beyond what the Obama Administration had requested. The $519 billion spending bill, which was $1 billion over the Pentagon's 2012 budget, was approved on a lopsided bipartisan 326-90 vote with eleven Republicans voting No and 101 Democrats voting Yes.
The Federal government's appropriation process of spending American taxpayer funds began in 1789 when the House Ways and Committee, initially granted broad authority over the essential functions of revenue, banking and all general appropriations, made its first appropriation commitment of $639,000.
By 1865, the oldest committee in Congress split its functions and created an Appropriation Committee with nine Members adopting a $1.3 million appropriation reflecting the costs of the Civil War. In what became a measure for monitoring US war expenditures, appropriations dropped in 1866 to $520,000 with the war's conclusion -- just as appropriations rose in 1899 to fund the Spanish American war at $605,000, dropping to $485,000 by 1902 at the war's end. Gearing up for a more substantial battle, appropriations to fund WWI grew to $18 billion in 1917 before dropping to $2.9 billion in 1927. After WWII and with the rise of the military industrial complex, the Pentagon portion of annual appropriations continues to dominate the US budget.
Immediately prior to consideration of the Pentagon's 2013 budget, it was with little irony that Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tx) introduced the Sequestration Transparency Act requiring the President to report proposed $1.2 trillion program cuts over the next ten years to Congress -- if sequestration becomes automatic on January 2, 2013. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, responded that while Democrats agree to eliminate sequestration, now referred to as a 'fiscal cliff' for domestic spending cuts, increased tax revenues from the country's top 2% would be required. While the STA was presented as a reasonable request seeking information, the Act may be little more than a guise to identify potential military cuts. With a two-thirds vote required, the STA was adopted on a 414-2 vote.
At the same time, defense contractors were on Capitol Hill wringing their hands in front of the House Armed Services Committee predicting doom and gloom if the Pentagon budget was cut 10% as required by the Budget Control Act of 2010 -- just days after former Vice President Dick Cheney visited Congressional Republicans to further drive the point that cuts to the military would be "devastating" with a loss of "1.5 million jobs. " According to Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Cheney advised Republicans to "keep the money flowing in a predictable way so you can plan for the next war."
Back on the House Floor, opposition to the Defense Appropriation fell to a handful of reliable Democrats and one senior Republican, all veterans of previous legislative battles, undaunted by the prospect of defeat as one amendment after another was ruled 'out of order' or beat back in a Republican controlled House.
Standing guard throughout the debate was Rep. Bill Young (R-Fl), Chair of the Appropriation Subcommittee on Defense who challenged multiple amendments with a fatal 'point of order' thus denying each a debate and an up-or-down vote. One such amendment was Rep. Walter Jones' (R-SC) attempt to bring the Afghanistan Security Agreement approved by President Obama several months ago to Congress. While the Agreement was submitted and approved by the Afghan parliament, it has never been introduced in the U.S. Congress and never debated or voted on. The Agreement would extend US military presence in Afghanistan until 2024.
While Rep. Barbara Lee's (D-Calif) amendment to freeze Pentagon spending at 2010 levels until a financial statement validates the Pentagon as audit-ready with trillions of taxpayer dollars missing and Rep. Ed Markey's (D-Mass) amendment to defund a new nuclear weapons facility that would cost taxpayers almost $6 billion were both deemed 'out of order," Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) amendment banning federal funds from violating DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) on military bases sailed through and was adopted on a 247-166 vote.
Retiring at the end of this Congressional Session did not stop long-time Pentagon critic Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif) from offering numerous amendments pointing out the need for "shared sacrifice" from the military as domestic programs are taking "a hit." Woolsey's amendments included a $1.7 billion military cut comparable to Republican budget cuts to social service block grants which lost on a 91-328 vote with 14 Republicans voting Yes; a $293 million cut (representing the cost of one day in Afghanistan) comparable to Republican cuts to women's health services lost on a 106-311 vote with 19 Republicans voting Yes; and another that would cut $181 million comparable to Republican cuts to Federal Transportation Administration infrastructure projects lost 114-302 with 28 Republicans voting Yes.
If Democratic amendments such as Rep. Markey's amendment to reduce land based nuclear missiles (ICBM) to 300 that would have saved $360 million or Rep. Mike Quigley's (D-Ill) $988 billion cut for one DDG51 destroyer the Navy did not request or Rep. Steve Cohen's amendment to cut $175 million to build roads in Afghanistan where there are no cars or similar amendments were adopted, American cities like Stockton, California, cited by the FBI as tenth on its "most dangerous city" list and with a budget shortfall of $26 million, would not need to declare bankruptcy.
Amidst the crime, neglect and dire poverty of American cities, the Pentagon budget remains supreme as the majority of States rely on Federal aid for their main source of revenue, the country's civil engineers cite chronic underfunding and delayed maintenance as it rates the nation's crumbling infrastructure (bridges, drinking water, schools, roads and transit) a solid D Grade.
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