About half of the recently enacted $1.1 trillion spending bill is earmarked for the Department of Defense, including tens of billions for defense contractors.
In an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun on Wednesday, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich argues that although the Cromnibus is “not especially large by historic standards … the problem with the legislation is who gets the goodies and who’s stuck with the tab.”
“Conservatives like to portray government as a welfare machine doling out benefits to the poor,” Reich argued, but “only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families,” while “an increasing portion goes to corporate welfare.” (RELATED: Defense Contractors Indicted for Bribing Military Officials with Strippers, Gifts)
In addition to repealing “part of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to stop Wall Street from using other peoples’ money to support its gambling addiction,” and extending tax breaks for health insurers, Reich claims that “Major defense contractors also win big,” getting funding for “the new warplanes, missiles and submarines they’ve been lobbying for.”
Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, outlines some of the more egregious handouts, including some that the Pentagon did not even request, in an op-ed for the Daily Beast.
“Among the unrequested programs,” she says, “were $341 million to modernize twelve Apache helicopters and nine Black Hawk helicopters, $1 billion to begin work on an additional San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship, $154 million for an additional P-8A Poseidon Navy surveillance aircraft and $1.46 billion for fifteen EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes.”
The most egregious spending provision, though, is “the $479 million to be spent on four additional F-35 fighter jets,” also known as Joint Strike Fighters. (RELATED: F-35 Costs May Still be Understated by Billions of Dollars)
The F-35 is designed to perform a variety of specialized missions, allowing it to replace several aging aircraft and theoretically save the military many billions of dollars over the long term. However, according to de Rugy, “the F-35 has a terrible track record,” and is currently “100 percent over budget and nowhere near a state where it can be used effectively or even safely.”
“The bill also provided $64 billion in war funding through the Overseas Contingency Operations account,” which despite its name is not used exclusively on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Instead, lawmakers from both parties “have used this account as a slush fund for budget items completely unrelated to the wars because they couldn’t be funded under the budget caps and through the regular process,” allowing them “to semi-secretly bloat the defense budget with pork.” (RELATED: Defense Contractors Adjust to Spending Cuts, Maintain Profits)
In addition, de Rugy claims that the $550 billion in DOD appropriations do not reflect “the real cost to taxpayers of maintaining the United States’ global military presence and interventionist foreign policies,” because “if you add all the money spent on defense activities through other departments and interests, the total could be at least 30 percent higher.”
In 2013, the last year for which data is available, “the Pentagon’s base budget was $503 billion,” but excluded “an additional $82 billion in war funding, $25 billion for the nuclear weapons programs contained in the Department of Energy’s budget,” and the myriad defense-related projects undertaken by other agencies, which together raised total defense spending to about $861 billion.
“The defense funding shenanigans should raise eyebrows among Democratic partisans who are generally quick to point the finger at Republican defense hawks in Congress,” de Rugy says, but goes on to assert that, “runaway defense spending is a bipartisan problem.”
For instance, “it should be noted that many of the unrequested items just happen to benefit companies in the district of Senate defense-appropriations subcommittee chairman,” Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin.
“The sad reality,” she concludes, is that “the Pentagon has become a giant jobs program.” And while “that might be good for weapons contractors … it certainly isn’t good for taxpayers and definitely not good for national security.”
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