Last Wednesday Senator Barbara Mikulski chided the military leadership for not being more forthcoming about decisions that could impact defense expenditures in their states:
… we really need those within the department to have a real understanding of this committee and every member, not only the full committee chairman and the vice chairman and the chairman of the subcommittee and Senator Cochran but all of the committees. We have been deeply troubled from time to time that we have been treated in a dismissive way. The chairmen are always treated with respect. Everybody wants to come and see us, have meetings, exchange coins, and we all kumbayah together. But at the end of the day, there are members here that want to be on this subcommittee so they can get simple answers about what’s going on in their own state. They worry about…the moving of airplanes, the fact that a meeting with us is checking the box.
Mikulski represents Maryland, which is the third most exposed state to defense cuts behind Hawaii and Alaska, and she chairs the appropriations committee.
The Pentagon proposed a budget earlier this month that called for a new round of base closures; estimates going back to the Bush administration claim the surplus of infrastructure is about 20 to 25 percent. Yet Congress rejected that idea last year.
In the last week there have been several news stories about Congressional opposition to scrapping weapons programs, from ships:
The Navy is stuck with a number of poorly performing ships it wasn’t permitted to scrap but can’t afford to fix because Congress hasn’t resolved its budget stalemate. Four Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers were on the Navy’s decommissioning list for 2013 because repairing and upgrading them would cost billions of dollars. But Congress objected to the cuts and instead authorized money to maintain three of them. That money has yet to materialize.
Parked around the airstrip at Lackland Air Force Base are more than a dozen massive C-5A Galaxy transport planes. There is no money to fly them, repair them or put pilots in the cockpits, but Congress rejected the Air Force’s bid to retire them. So every now and then, crews will tow the planes around the Texas tarmac a bit to make sure the tires don’t rot, then send them back into exile until they can finally get permission to commit the aging aircraft to the boneyard.
Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams.
But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, “No thanks.”
It’s the inverse of the federal budget world these days, in which automatic spending cuts are leaving sought-after pet programs struggling or unpaid altogether. Republicans and Democrats for years have fought so bitterly that lawmaking in Washington ground to a near-halt. Yet in the case of the Abrams tank, there’s a bipartisan push to spend an extra $436 million on a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.
On their own, each one of these things is a tiny part of the Pentagon’s budget. But with furloughs and benefit cuts on the table, not to consider scrapping unwanted weapons programs is to put pork before American soldiers.
(It’s worth adding that the Pentagon has funded things Congress explicitly told them not to recently as well.)