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Cutting Defense Cuts

May 10, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Washington Post had an important article yesterday reminding us how hard it is for Congress to think independently about spending cuts when it affects politically-active corporations:

Lawmakers overseeing defense spending are moving to block or modify deep cuts proposed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, setting up a key vote this week that could help determine the success of the administration’s attempt to shrink the Pentagon’s budget.

Excluding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the administration has proposed a $553 billion budget for the Pentagon next year — less than a 1 percent increase over what it requested for 2011 — and the House Armed Services Committee is expected to vote this week on the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill.

But the panel’s subcommittees last week voted to prohibit a proposed increase in fees paid by retired service personnel for Tricare, the military’s health program; set the stage for possible recompetition of the controversial engine for the Air Force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; and required studies before the Marine Corps can go ahead with a new proposed amphibious landing craft to replace the multibillion-dollar Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV).

The subcommittees have also added funds to programs that the Pentagon did not seek. For example, $425 million has been added to the proposed budget to keep production lines open for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Abrams M1 tank. The Pentagon had proposed shutting down those lines for three years to save money.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Defense sector gave $22.5 million to Congress in 2010 and spent another $145 million on lobbying. Rep. Buck McKeon [R, CA-25], the Armed Services Committee Chairman who is quoted in the WaPo article defending the spending, has taken $429,250 from the Defense Aerospace industry over the course of his career. In the 2010 cycle he took $336,500 from the Defense sector, the most of any current member of Congress.

House Speaker Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8] is talking about wanting to cut trillions — “not just billions” — of spending in order to reduce the long-term debt. But I don’t know how he expects to get there when Congress can’t even get a few billion in cuts to the largest federal agency through the appropriations process. If the Republicans insist on cutting spending generally while continuing to increase the military budget, all the tough decisions are going come down on services used by ordinary citizens, and none on the billions being sucked up by Defense contractors. Will Boehner step up and here and tell the Defense appropriators to sacrifice their pork for the greater good? I doubt it. Some of the contractors that stand to benefit the most from these defense spending items are located in Boehner’s district and he has long advocated for their continued funding.

McKeon is pictured above. 

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