The Fight Over Weapons Cuts is about to get Ugly
At Monday’s unveiling of major weapons cuts in the 2010 defense budget, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he hoped members of Congress would “rise above parochial interests and consider what is in the best interet of the nation as a whole.” Within hours, his hopes were dashed. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) blasted the cuts in a YouTube video recorded from Afghanistan. Inhofe joined Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Mark Begich (R-AK), and four other senators in signing a letter to President Obama demanding he replace $1.4 million cuts from missile defense. Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) issued a statement protesting the termination of the F-22 fighter jet, and Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) decried the C-17 cargo plane’s demise.
Many of the axed programs—which include the VH-1A presidential helicopter, TSAT communications satellite and the Army’s Future Combat Systems—have garnered years of criticism for their strategic irrelevance as well as for busting their budgets and schedules. But it took a new president, an economic crisis and a Republican holdover at the Pentagon to finally get them on the chopping block. Pushing the cuts through the appropriations process will draw deeply from Obama’s reserves of popularity and authority, especially since most of these programs’ champions survived the November elections.
The coming fight should prove that President Eisenhower’s “military-industrial-congressional complex” is not an outdated cliché. Defense contractors spend millions on lobbying, advertising and campaign donations to lawmakers across the country. Gates has so far maintained discipline among the service chiefs that often collude with lawmakers in securing money for pet projects, but his grip may slip as budget negotiations ramp up.
Why shouldn’t lawmakers fight for wasteful weapons when unemployment lines are lengthening, you might ask? First of all, supporting defense charity cases keeps soldiers from getting the weapons they need. The Government Accountability Office has long warned that DOD commits to more programs than it can afford, forcing it to borrow within its budget—which ultimately increases costs and keeps needed weapons out of soldiers’ hands. Second, viewing defense through the prism of jobs undermines our security by preventing us from prioritizing on the basis of what keeps us safe. Third, several economists have pointed out that weapons have less economy-stimulating bang for the buck than other investments anyway.
Lawmakers must realize that defense spending decisions affect the wallets and the security of all taxpayers. The coming fight may get ugly. If so, it will expose and hopefully help us face some ugly truths about Congress and the budget.