Yesterday, Friday, the Washington Post published a letter from the President of Citizens Against Government Waste in response to my commentary in last Sunday’s Outlook section. Tom Schatz, the President of CAGW, focused on defending Senator John McCain against my descriptions and criticisms of his actions on defense bills. I sent the Post a response to Mr. Schatz, but the Post has decided not to publish it. Both letters are reproduced below.
Friday, August 27, 2004; Page A20
In the Aug. 22 Outlook piece, “Don’t Mind If I Do,” WINSLOW T. WHEELER leveled much-deserved criticism at Congress for larding the defense budget with self-serving, parochial projects. Citizens Against Government Waste’s annual “Congressional Pig Books” have shown how defense pork has risen 30.6 percent during the past three years, even as our elected leaders purportedly have marshaled all available resources to wage the war on terrorism.
However, Mr. Wheeler missed the mark when he accused Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) of giving a “wink and nod” to record pork in the 2005 defense appropriations bill.
Mr. McCain’s credentials as an anti-pork crusader are unassailable. He is the only senator who consistently takes to the floor to shame members of Congress for their budget-busting, special-interest spending. Mr. McCain’s decision to insert his criticism into the Congressional Record instead of speaking on the Senate floor hardly means that he is “going through the motions” or that his efforts are insincere.
Mr. McCain has repeatedly pushed for budget reform legislation that would reduce opportunities to get pet projects included in the annual spending bills.
Several times, he was rebuffed by Mr. Wheeler’s former boss, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), when he sought help to make such remedies a reality. And no wonder. Mr. Wheeler regularly prepared a laundry list of pork requests at the behest of his boss for inclusion in defense appropriations, as he acknowledged in his essay, “Mr. Smith Is Dead,” published by the Center for Defense Information.
Citizens Against Government Waste
In large part, I agree with Tom Schatz, in his 26 Aug. letter regarding my commentary in Outlook, “Don’t Mind If I Do.” Both his organization, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), and Senator John McCain perform a valuable public service by reporting on Congress’ atrocious and corrosive pork system. Mr. Schatz was also right to point out that I was once a busy participant in that system. As I have already confessed and in much more detail in my forthcoming book, “The Wastrels of Defense,” I didn’t just push pork for the Senators who employed me, I did a lot to retard Congress’s porcine apparatus. However, I continue to be very disappointed in Senator McCain. As a U.S. Senator, he is in a position to do more than just report on pork like CAGW, yet for the most part he takes no meaningful action.
Senator McCain’s inaction constitutes an enabling of pork, not a crusade against it. As authorizations and appropriations for pork in Congress’s defense bills achieve new records in parallel with Senator McCain’s speeches, the nation’s defense weakens. Accurate reporting outside Congress helps, but just talk inside keeps the system going. In my book I’ve come up with a “12 Step” program to impede pork on Capitol Hill and to stop the other ways Congress sabotages US security. I would welcome working with Mr. Schatz and Senator McCain to give citizens the Congress they need and deserve in the area of national security.
WINSLOW T. WHEELER
Visiting Senior Fellow
Center for Defense Information
Winslow Wheeler is a visiting senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information. He contributed an essay on the defense budget to CounterPunch’s new book: Dime’s Worth of Difference. Wheeler’s book, “The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security,” will be available from the Naval Institute Press in October.