The Phony Pentagon Budget Cuts

The vast majority of Congress is fundamentally anti-military.

That was amply demonstrated on Nov. 8 by an overwhelming 400-15 vote in the House, and an unopposed unanimous voice vote in the Senate, on a new Department of Defense Appropriations Act to fund peacetime Pentagon programs for the current fiscal year.

That makes 520 of a total of 535 members of Congress who thought this bill was just dandy, most of whom said so in their press releases ballyhooing the passage of the measure.

President Bush joined the anti-defense horde Nov. 13 when he signed this legislative monstrosity into law. As Congress continues to bicker with Bush on the war and much else, both it and the president assume–probably safely–that the piles of garbage they inserted and endorsed in the defense bill will be ignored.

Anti-military monstrosity? Piles of garbage? Doesn’t that seem a bit strong? After all, what’s wrong with voting for defense spending?

Let me count the ways.

Consider the following, which members of Congress from both parties and the president forgot to include in their press releases: Congress cut the Pentagon’s military personnel account, the basic payroll for military men and women, by $500 million.

It cited rationales such as “excessive growth” in funding for Army personnel (which is strange when the Army is trying to expand and the president and almost everybody in Congress declare themselves in complete support of that expansion).

The reductions continued in the Pentagon’s Operation and Maintenance account; this is the part of the Defense Department budget that pays for weapons maintenance, training, fuel, food, uniforms and much else that enables a military to operate at the most basic level.

Congress cut Navy training and weapons maintenance by $129.7 million and $50 million, respectively; Air Force training lost $400 million.

With the military services struggling to send properly trained and equipped people to Iraq and Afghanistan, these are strange places to cut money.

Bigger cuts appear in the Army’s O&M budget; they are based on more of that “unjustified program growth” and total a whopping $836.3 million.

Taken altogether, the reductions in the Pentagon’s total operating budget come to $4.9 billion.

A presumably innocuous “General Provisions” part of the bill is home to two huge gimmicks to exact more reductions, namely:

* Section 8097 mandates that each and every “budget activity, activity group [and] sub-activity group” that spends defense contracting money shall be reduced proportionally, without regard to value or effectiveness, by a grand total of $506.9 million.

* Despite the great uncertainty of future developments in today’s unsure economy, inflation in the upcoming year was declared to be less than what economists today predict–and with great precision. Accordingly, $1.353 billion was removed from the Pentagon’s operating, procurement and research budgets based on Congress’ fatuous prognostications.

The grand total of all these specious reductions comes to at least $7.3 billion by my count.

Don’t get me wrong: The Pentagon budget is huge and unimaginably bloated.

However, Congress hasn’t bothered to find out where, and it repeatedly elects to cut spending in Defense operating and payroll accounts, the only major parts that are actually underfunded.

Why do the Democrats and Republicans in Congress undertake these phony and arbitrary cuts?

Why don’t they hunt down and cut the bloat, especially in the procurement and research accounts, where many programs have nothing to do with fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or anything else that poses a real threat to the United States?

It’s really quite simple.

In this bill, Congress added 2,161 “earmarks,” costing $7.9 billion, for specific spending projects in congressional districts, according to the expert and highly reliable Taxpayers for Common Sense watchdog group.

The projects range from a $2 million brown tree snake eradication program in Hawaii, which Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) added to the Pentagon’s Defense Health Program, to an “intermodal marine facility” Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) added for the port of Anchorage for $11 million. The list goes on and on and on.

To pay for the pork, Congress did not add money to the bill. Instead, it opted for “offsets.”

It could have cut into unnecessary procurement and research programs, but that would be biting the corporate hand that feeds congressional porkers with campaign contributions, and it would impair the opportunity to boast to constituents that the grunters are “bringing home the bacon” with local spending.

What better place to cut than the obscure and technical military payroll and operating budgets that no one watches and that have little political pay-off, according to today’s repulsive thinking.

This is not the first time both the Republicans and the Democrats in Congress raided the most fundamentally important part of the Pentagon budget to pay for politically driven junk, and it is not the first time no one in Washington did anything to stop it.

It will also not be the last time. They will keep it up until they know they are being watched and realize that if they don’t do something about it, others will.

There are 520 bad pennies out there–each of them expecting the external world to admire the tarnish.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information and author of The Wastrels of Defense. Over 31 years, he worked for US Senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office on national security issues.



Winslow T. Wheeler worked for 31 years on Capitol Hill for both Republican and Democratic Senators and for the Government Accountability Office on national security and program evaluation issues. When he left Capitol Hill he worked at the Center for Defense Information and the Project On Government Oversight for thirteen years altogether.