Congress Breaks with Administration, Protects Defense Lobby
July 6, 2009 - 4:57pm ET
Ignoring earlier recommendations of the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, the 2010 defense bill throws funding lifelines to failed weapons systems slated to be cut. Resisting the call to reform, the House Armed Services Committee showcased their protection of the defense lobby instead. Already Obama has promised to veto their bill moving through the Senate, making for quite a fight if cuts are not restored.
The National Defense Authorization Act passed by the House and now in the Senate provides $680 billion in 2010 for defense related activities—of which $180 billion is set aside for weapons acquisition. Members of the House Armed Services Committee—responsible for the bill and voting unanimously in support of it—asserted their reasons for opposing key cuts outlined by the Obama administration:
Chairman of House Armed Services, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), painted a rosy picture of the bill’s objectives by affirming:
“This year’s defense bill promotes our main policy objectives: restoring military readiness; eliminating waste and recovering savings through acquisition reform; and maintaining robust oversight of the Department of Defense.”
Yet, provisions in the bill shun expert military opinions. Gates opposes the bill’s continuation of the F-22 program and the Navy’s Top Officer criticized the bill’s plan to alter the development of the already delayed, expensive F-35 jet program.
Ranking Member, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD):
“The Administration is gently slapped in this bill for its failure to provide Congress with the standard analyses required to justify significant changes in several major programs. In addition to ballistic missile defense cuts, these include cuts in the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA), Future Combat Systems (FCS) and the F-22.’”
However, Bartlett only needs to go as far as the numerous GAO reports that point to the ballooning costs and unproven design of programs to understand why the Administration called for cuts or reduced funding. The Future Combat Systems is conservatively estimated to cost $160 billion and faces significant deficiencies in development.
The F-22 Raptor has been called “an expensive weapon in search of a mission.” Designed for a Soviet threat that no longer exists, the jet has constantly been re-modernized for decades. Facing cost overruns of over 200 percent, it is the most expensive fighter jet ever made. The Undersecretary of Pentagon Acquisitions even stated that its mission capable rate is “troubling.”
Ranking Member, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO):
“This bill is a decent one, given the fiscal restraints that President Obama and the Democrat Congress have imposed on the Department of Defense. We should be spending more on the defense of our nation, but this is a reasonable start.”
Spend more on defense?? Akin must have missed the facts; the U.S. spent more in 2008 on defense than the next 45 highest spending countries in the world combined. And accounts for 48 percent of the world's total military spending. Or that defense spending consumes over one-third of total government spending.
As shocking as it may be that Congress so flagrantly ignores the facts—it is no surprise. The defense lobby heavily finances some of the most ardent defenders of these weapons programs. Skelton enjoys hefty financial support from nearly every top defense company. One of Lockheed Martin’s top congressional recipients is Rep. Saxby Chambliss—among the most vocal for continuing F-22 production.
Gates’ call for cuts may be a small step to curb immense Pentagon spending, but even this tiny reform may be squashed. A few battles are sure to take place both within and outside Congress this month as the defense bill moves through the Senate. Obama issued a veto threat against the legislation—a first for his presidency—while defense reformers Sens. Levin and McCain affirmed they will “fight on the floor” against the F-22. Of course those in Congress whose priorities fall with big industry rather than reality will be ready to battle as well.
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