FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Trimming Pentagon Fat

One minor piece of good news came out of the defense spending bill that the House passed last week. While approving a bill giving more to the Pentagon than the Pentagon asked for, the House did remove a few small items from the military budget. One was dear to the heart, and campaign war chest, of Hal Rogers (R-KY), the chair of the spending committee.

In May, The New York Times reported that the Army was purchasing $17,000 drip pans for some of its Black Hawk helicopters. A drip pan’s function is straightforward: catching liquid waste.  $17,000? Drip pans costing only $2,500 (nearly eight times less) are regularly purchased for the military’s other helicopters.

The Pentagon has a long history of wasteful spending. But huge budgets, like this year’s $606 billion, are difficult to comprehend and therefore hard to argue with. That’s why things like $17,000 drip pans are helpful symbols of the larger problem of unrestrained military spending. In the mid 1980s, scandals erupted over the $436 hammer, the $7,622 coffee maker, and, perhaps most infamously, the $640 toilet seat. The price tags on these items evoked visceral reactions from citizens who knew how much these things really cost and were outraged that their tax dollars were being spent on overpriced versions of basic household goods.

One Small Step

In the wake of the Times article, the House decided to prohibit the chair of the spending committee from granting future drip pan contracts to a loyal campaign contributor when other manufactures could provide a comparable product for a fraction of the price. This is certainly a small step toward reducing military waste. But if Congress truly wanted to rein in spending, it would do more than take symbolic action to buy cheaper drip pans for a few military helicopters (an action which will save $5 million over three years out of a six hundred billion dollar budget).

Indeed, the Appropriations Committee’s attempt to avoid a scandal should not be mistaken for a serious attempt to curtail military spending. The very same day, the Committee voted down numerous proposals for more substantial waste reduction. One of the rejected proposals sought to reduce annual funding for military bands from $330 million to $180 million. Another sought to cut the $72.3 million the military spends on advertising at NASCAR races. Both proposals would have significantly reduced the budget without compromising national security.

Congressional reluctance to curtail wasteful military spending is particularly perplexing given the current climate of fiscal austerity. If Congress really were committed to reducing wasteful spending, a natural place to start would be decommissioning the F-35 Joint-Strike Fighter. The military plans to spend overt $400 billion to develop and acquire about 2,500 F-35s in the coming decades, despite lingering safety concerns and the questionable usefulness and viability of the aircraft.

Congress could also claim $4.5 billion in savings by canceling the construction of the CMRR-NF, a new nuclear research facility in New Mexico. By scraping the project, Congress would merely be following its own advice: in 2008, the House Appropriations Committee reported that the proposed facility “had no coherent mission.”

Sequestration and National Defense

Because the “Supercommittee” failed to agree on a deficit-reducing budget, sequestration, which calls for $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in 2013, is set to take effect on January 2. Many of the same people who adamantly advocated for sequestration are now insisting that the military be exempt from the cuts should they occur (see House Republicans). Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is also appealing for the military’s exemption, warning of the “doomsday scenario” that would befall the United States should sequestration strike the military.

Sequestration is not the best way to reduce government spending. That is certain. However, sequestration would not incapacitate the military nor decimate its budget—it would simply reduce spending to approximately its 2006 level of $570 billion. China, the world’s second largest defense spender, spent $129 billion on defense in FY 2011. In other words, even with sequestration, the U.S. would be spending four-and-a-half times more than the next largest defense spender (in FY 2010, the U.S. spent as much on its military as the next 17 countries combined). Moreover, reductions in defense spending are appropriate and inevitable, given that the United States has ended the war in Iraq and is withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

Sequestering military spending is not a “doomsday” scenario. It is a non-ideal solution to a problem—the bloated military budget—that desperately needs to be addressed. It’s reassuring that Congress is axing those $17,000 drip pans. But that’s only a bit of gristle compared to the huge amount of fat in Pentagon spending.

Gabriel Rossman is an intern with Foreign Policy in Focus, where this essay originally appeared.

More articles by:
April 26, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited
Daniel Warner
From May 1968 to May 2018: Politics and Student Strikes
Simone Chun – Kevin Martin
Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires
George Wuerthner
The Attack on Wilderness From Environmentalists
CJ Hopkins
The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists
Richard Schuberth
“MeToo” and the Liberation of Sex
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Sacred Assemblies in Baghdad
Dean Baker
Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win
Vern Loomis
The 17 Gun Salute
Gary Leupp
What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel
Robby Sherwin
The Hat
April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail