A Capitol Hill spending frenzy

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The next time you hear a member of the U.S. House or Senate say they are fervently committed to trimming the federal budget of waste or fat, don’t take it with a pinch of salt – take it with a whole silo full of salt.


The skepticism is certainly called for after last week’s Capitol Hill spectacle surrounding the annual defense authorization bill. Though the Pentagon served up a number of proposals to cut its own budget, they were waved off by lawmakers who were ready to spend, baby, spend.


The House version, which passed on a 325-98 vote, with both Democrats and Republicans joining in the feeding frenzy, kept all kinds of goodies in place that the Pentagon, like a gorged man who keeps insisting he’s stuffed, pleaded they really didn’t want. According to the website Politico, the House bill forces the Navy to start thinking about refueling its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, even though the Pentagon considered mothballing it at a cost savings in the billions.


The Pentagon also wanted to put 11 Navy cruisers out of commission, but the House said no. The outdated U-2 spy plane must keep flying, proposed base closures were set aside, and funding for A-10 planes that were slated for elimination were kept, with the $635 million price tag to keep them aloft moved into the budget for the continuing Afghanistan engagement. Some of those who voted against the cuts the Pentagon put forward were tea partyers who went to Washington, D.C., vowing to take a hacksaw to the federal budget. Clearly, now, we can see that they were committed to cutting spending, as long as it’s spending that might benefit someone other than their constituents or donors.


U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington state, was a rare voice of sanity. He said the House came up with no alternatives to the Pentagon’s proposed cuts and “we ducked every difficult decision.”


Smith explained some House members said they made “tough choices,” but, “I don’t believe we did make a tough choice. When you look at the issues that we face in terms of the budget, we ducked every single one of them.”


Things were a little better in the Senate, with the Senate Armed Services Committee supporting some of the budget cuts the Pentagon asked for, but retaining one of the aircraft carriers and the A-10 planes. Once the bill gets through the Senate, it will have to be reconciled with the House version, so it appears the Pentagon will have to live with the bloat that is being foisted upon it from Capitol Hill.


Obviously, this is not about the United States maintaining a muscular defense in comparison to potential adversaries like Russia or China. We’re already there. Even if the Pentagon had gotten every cent in savings it asked for, the United States would still outstrip every other nation in the amount it spends on armaments. Our military dominance of the world is assured. This is about appeasing defense contractors who sink cash into campaigns and jobs back home.


But our infrastructure continues to crumble, our educational standing slips behind global competitors, our environment is threatened and programs that assist those in the greatest need continue to come under assault. Yet, there’s always money for a redundant base or a fancy weapons system we hope we never have to use.


Dwight Eisenhower, who no one would have accused of being weak-kneed when it came to this country’s defense, said it well: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”


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