Let’s see if I got this right. According to The Washington Post, a $636 billion military spending bill scheduled for vote by the House today or tomorrow contains about $7 billion in new ships, planes, helicopters and armored vehicles Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon does not need. The waste Gates decried as “business as usual” represents about 1% of the House’s version for military spending this coming year.
Gates is trying to reform Defense Department procurement procedures but is meeting stiff resistance from Congress trying to preserve jobs in their districts as well as lucrative campaign contributions from defense contractors. He has the support of President Barack Obama who signaled he will veto the entire bill for items that “duplicate existing programs, or that have outlived their usefulness.”A similar veto threat forced the Senate July 21 to end the F-22 fighter-jet program designed during the Cold War but useless for today’s military missions.
The plot for a showdown thickens as those crafty congressmen anticipating their pork barrel favorites in jeopardy, passed on Wednesday an unusually restrictive rule for floor debate that allows only amendments that could strip less than half of the spending the administration did not request. A neat trick because it frees up $2.75 billion for their earmarks which include building more C-17 transport planes, F-18 jets and four military jets for the exclusive use of Congressmen and Pentagon brass.
Get this: About half of the $2.75 billion will be earmarked to private firms whose political action committees donated $789,190 to House appropriations subcommittee members on defense in the past 2 1/2 years, according to Taxpayers For Common Sense.
One of the more notorious earmarkers in Congress is appropriations subcommittee head John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) who is now being probed by the Justice Department and the House ethics committee. The White House targeted Murtha’s committee for adding $400 million to finish five presidential helicopters unwanted by Gates and Obama. Murtha countered it was dumb to spend $3.2 billion on a program and “get nothing out of it.” He added that the Defense Department really really wanted them but were muzzled by the White House.
This leads me to the most revealing inside look of the culture permeating Washington in this one paragraph in the WaPo story:
Regarding the disputed C-17 transport aircraft, for example, senior defense officials have formally testified that those purchased in previous years, in combination with upgraded C-5 aircraft, will be sufficient to meet any conceivable military needs. But the committee added $674 million for three unwanted planes because “the Air Force will say on the record that they don’t support it, but if you ask them off the record if they will actually use the planes, they will say, ‘Absolutely,’ ” said a House staff member who also was not allowed to speak on the record.
There will be a plethora of procedural problems before the House votes on the military spending bill because Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, plans to submit 540 amendments to demonstrate how fed up he is with Congressional earmarks.
“Simply put, members of Congress should not have the ability to award no-bid contracts” to private firms, Flake said in a statement. “The practice has created an ethical cloud over Congress, and it needs to end.” He noted that at least 70 of the earmarks are for former clients of the PMA Group, a lobbying firm close to appropriations subcommittee chairman Murtha.
Having read the Post story and restructured it for this posting, the question I keep asking myself is whether DefSec Gates is right and the estimated $7 billion be cut from the House military budget. What do we do then? Not spend it? After all, the money doesn’t really exist now and will have to be borrowed in the future. Or stick the “savings” into the healthcare reform bill? You see, that’s the difference between politicians and the rest of us. They take a proposed spending plan, cut it by 10%, and claim they saved you money. When we cut our household budget by 10 percent, we go without.
Jerry Remmers worked 26 years in the newspaper business. His last 23 years was with the Evening Tribune in San Diego where assignments included reporter, assistant city editor, county and politics editor.