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Why is Defense Waste Taboo in the Tax Debate?

For all the talk about spending and debt, wars are never on the table.
Pentagon cropped

For all the talk about the big Republican tax cut it’s really only about $150 billion per year—although proponents multiply it by 10 years, so that $1.5 trillion sounds like a lot. Arguments about how to pay for it may end up derailing or neutering it in the end. Which is ironic, since Trump wants to add $50 billion to the defense budget. But no one wants to talk about defense waste during these tax debates. Why is the Pentagon budget untouchable?

The waste in defense today is incredible. It’s not that Americans don’t inherently care: My 2013 article, 16 Ways to Cut Defense is still at the top of the search engines after four years. Just to mention a few of the 16 ways: Cut some of the 4,000 military bases in the U.S. Most of them were set up in horse and buggy days before highways and helicopters brought them all closer together. Another, combine the Army and Navy hospital system. Furthermore, TRICARE costs another $50 billion to give mainly non-combat veterans free family health insurance for the rest of their lives.

Here’s another suggestion: Test military weaponry before the Pentagon orders it. There is vast corruption in placing supply factories in key congressional districts to build a constituency for new weapons even before their design is tested. The biggest boondoggle from this is the $1.4 trillion F-35 fighter plane program. We should return to bidding out contracts for the lowest costs.

As for personnel, cut the number of civilian Pentagon employees, which is now around 800,000 persons. There are too many officers—the Army and Navy have about one for every four to five enlisted men, some triple the number compared to World War II. Generals are equally super abundant and never get fired. In World War II, General Marshall fired dozens of them. And when every bomb now hits its target why do we need so many bombers?

And let’s not forget the trillion-dollar nuclear weapons modernization program started by President Obama, and continued with President Trump, which will add new nuclear weapons to the arsenal.

Another enormous waste involves Navy ships. The New York Times published a report in November after the recent collisions of two destroyers in the Pacific. Even though one ship now has the missile accuracy in firepower equivalent to maybe half a dozen ships in World War II, the Navy appears to still schedule their numbers and crews the old way. Since the accidents, the Navy is now revamping its scheduling process. Representative Mike Coffman urged the Navy to adopt “sea swap policies (to save billions of dollars) for cruisers, destroyers and amphibious ships by flying crews out to ships instead of changing crews at home ports.”

More appalling is the information that until two years ago nuclear submarines were also operating on such grueling watch schedules as to leave captains and crews exhausted even though the service ordered (nuclear) submarines to abandon similar schedules two years ago. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from May said sailors were on duty up to 108 hours each week. Why? America is not at war, why are we running our ships ragged? What are they all doing?

The fact that all this waste if off the table in budget debates is almost criminal. All the claptrap on cable news and not a word of these Pentagon boondoggles and mishandling of taxpayer funds! Most Republicans are ready to cut health care, much less reform much of its inordinate waste and monopoly pricing, but they can’t talk about military waste? House speaker Paul Ryan has a sad record on this issue. Years ago, in Tax Collectors for the Warfare State, I wrote how Ryan and many Republicans were ready to sacrifice the home mortgage interest deduction to pay for more war in Afghanistan.

It’s heading us toward eventual bankruptcy when even important tax cuts to bring back faster economic growth may be sacrificed to hang us on a cross of guns (with due respect to William Jennings Bryan speech about hanging America on a cross of gold).

Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.