Defense Doublespeak

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Illustration by Emily Metcalf

BY TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE – If irony is a crucial ingredient to comedy, the House of Representatives was a laugh riot this week thanks to some serious silliness about sequestration and defense spending.

The very same day that the House took up a bill to fund the government for another six months—a stopgap measure to kick funding decisions for fiscal year 2013 to the next Congress—it passed legislation introduced by Representative Allen West (R-FL) that would put the brakes on the defense spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA), itself a stopgap measure.


The irony behind this bill, titled the “National Security and Jobs Protection Act,” is threefold. First, Rep. West—along with many of the bill’s supporters– was among the 343 members of Congress who passed the BCA last year. Second, the bill was debated amidst a flurry of hearings and reports on waste in the Pentagon budget. Finally, the bill prescribes the very same kind of government-sponsored economic stimulus that Rep. West and many other lawmakers despise.

Rep. West says he voted for the BCA to stop the President from receiving “a blank check to continue his spending binge.” His new bill—which the Senate won’t touch and the White House vowed to veto—would lower the BCA’s cap on discretionary funds while removing the “firewall” between defense and non-defense spending. That means the Pentagon would get off the hook while non-defense agencies like transportation and energy take a bigger hit. Similar proposals have been fielded by lawmakers including Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who argues the cuts would weaken our national security.

Yet on the same day the bill reached the House floor, the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee held a hearing on a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report that records of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of fuel in Afghanistan had gone missing. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) simultaneously held a hearing on deadly cockpit malfunctions in the F-22 Raptor, a ridiculously expensive white elephant aircraft that some members of Congress are trying to revive after its cancellation three years ago. Wednesday saw another HASC hearing on waste in Pentagon contracting, followed by one on Friday questioning DOD’s slow progress toward achieving an audit. Oh, and the National Research Council reported that missile defense—the most expensive defense program ever at $200 billion and counting—is a flop.

Defenders of the effort to skirt the sequestration they themselves adopted a little over a year ago were blithely unaware of these developments. Indeed, the debate devolved into a partisan fight over the role of government in job creation. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) briefly touched on sequestration’s impact on national security, but spent the bulk of his floor time complaining about its effect on jobs in his district, down to the grocer who provides produce to military bases. The contradiction inherent in his arguments—that government-driven jobs programs are bad unless they involve defense—seemed lost on him. You can’t have it both ways.

There’s a simple fix for sequestration. In fact, it’s written right in the BCA: Adopt $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. We came up with $1.5 trillion last year and in a few weeks will release billions more (keep reading your Wastebasket). Furthermore, if lawmakers really want to stop blank checks for spending binges, they should start with the Pentagon, not stop short of it. Any fiscal plan that refuses to take on a budget that has more than doubled in the past decade, constitutes nearly 60 percent of our discretionary spending and is rife with waste to boot is not just inefficient, it’s dangerous. Our economic strength is our first line of defense, and the best way to protect it is to make every part of government vigilant against waste.

Let us know what you think.