On February 10, 2020, the Trump administration submitted its budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2021. It called for $740.5 billion for national security, of which $705.4 billion was for the Department of Defense with no rationale for spending nor any mention of infectious diseases or public health. To put the defense budget in perspective, the cost of a single F-35 ($144 million) could have purchased at least 2,800 ventilators to aid in the fight against COVID-19. Though the Pentagon could not have foreseen that a pandemic would have military personnel scattered all over the country helping with the disease control effort, or that overseas deployments would have to be postponed, more care should have been taken to assess the potential risks of public health crises and to evaluate the intelligence suggesting a serious threat to national security.
The COVID-19 outbreak has naturally revived the guns verses butter debate over whether taxpayer dollars should have been spent on a single fighter jet or for useful equipment at home. National defense is a vital government function, while health care is both a public and private undertaking. What Americans spend to keep themselves healthy varies dramatically. Many of those dollars come out of our pockets, or from the third‐party payers we rely on to cover our health care costs – whether that is a private health insurer or the federal government. But the government has a role to play in protecting public safety, and when the leading threat to public safety is right here at home, and not susceptible to military solutions, it is appropriate to redirect some of the money that was intended for the Pentagon to these other, more urgent, needs.