Tell rich gulf countries to repay our taxpayers
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There are things worth spending $8.5 billion in taxpayers’ money on – improving our crumbling infrastructure, researching new military technologies, or fully funding the military widows’ benefit. As a progressive California Democrat and chair of the House Freedom Caucus, we don’t agree on much, but we both think that giving deep discounts to four of the richest countries on earth is not worth a dime of taxpayer money.

Nonetheless, the Department of Defense (DOD) is giving major breaks on American military hardware to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait; four of the richest countries in the world. In the last six years, the DOD approved $8.5 billion in waivers just to those four. In one of those deals, the Saudis scored a $3.5 billion discount on a $15 billion purchase of a single missile defense system.

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This is happening because of a loophole in the laws that require countries purchasing weapons or other military systems to reimburse U.S. taxpayers for a share of taxpayer-financed research, development, and production expenses. “Loss of sale” waivers are designed to allow weapons buyers to not pay that share of systems’ research and development costs if paying would lead the customer to walk away from the deal. That, however, is not how the DOD has used these waivers.

Rather than vet purchasers’ claims, the DOD takes other countries’ assertions that they would walk away from a purchase at face value. It turns out that when countries said they wouldn’t make a deal without a waiver – even extremely wealthy countries – the DOD gave away taxpayer funds without a second thought.

The American public deserves far better. Loss of sale waivers should be considered only if a relatively poor country can’t afford a U.S. tank or plane without a waiver. But that kind of generosity can’t be limitless, and the DOD needs to do more to ensure taxpayers aren’t getting fleeced and footing the bill.

That’s why we introduced the REPAY (Return Expenses Paid and Yielded) Act with a bipartisan group of our congressional colleagues. The REPAY Act would require the DOD to provide Congress with a complete accounting for why it thinks another country needs a waiver. For instance, is the customer considering buying other countries’ weapons instead? How do they compare in terms of price and quality? Do the country’s limited funds truly prevent it from affording U.S. defense weapons?

Additionally, the REPAY Act institutes “speeding fines” that limit the ability of repeat, high-value customers to abuse these loss of sale waivers. After all, if you’ve purchased U.S. weapons 10 times, you’re not coming back because you got 5 percent off, you’re coming back because you like the store.

Speier is a member of the Armed Services Committee. Meadows is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Government Operations.