Congress just agreed to completely out of control Pentagon spending


Senators of both parties outdid even their House counterparts, and even the president, in their zeal to add money to the Pentagon budget. And they’ve won.

This year their budget deal will break the existing caps on military spending imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act by a whopping $80 billion. Next year it will be $88 billion.

Democrats are touting the deal as achieving “parity” between military and non-military spending, because the new bill will also add $63 billion in new spending this year for non-military priorities. (Last I checked, though, $80 billion and $63 billion were not at “parity.”)

{mosads}And the Pentagon increases don’t even count the uncapped Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which will add another $66 billion in extra military spending this year and $69 billion next year.

The grand total? $700 billion. Close to the post-World War II record.

Military leaders have been stepping up their complaints about shifting budget deals and short-term funding fixes that keep them in the dark about how much money they’re going to have to work with. Indeed, the Washington Post editorial board applauded Senate lawmakers Wednesday for “finally respond(ing) to warnings from defense officials that funding uncertainty harms readiness.”

Let’s take that thought apart, though.

It makes sense, as these officials say, that deferring maintenance on military hardware because you’re not sure when or whether you can pay for it (to name one example), is no way to run a military, and will cost more in the long run.

But here’s the thing: The caps set by the Budget Control Act did in fact provide certainty. This is how much you have to spend on the military, those caps said, and no more. The problem is not with the caps, but with the fact that the military and their congressional allies have not been willing to live with those limits. Almost every time they were about to kick in, Congress walked away, busting the caps by giving the military — and only the military — extra money.

If they had decided to live within the caps, they would have been forced to make choices and set priorities. The Senate’s deal now tells them: You don’t have to. You don’t have to examine, for example:

The $125 billion in administrative waste that the Pentagon’s own investigators identified and then buried.

Finding cheaper alternatives to the F-35 fighter jet — the most expensive weapon system ever conceived, which has been mired in one problem after another since it went into development 25 years ago.

The wisdom of replacing our entire nuclear arsenal, and building new nuclear designs that make nuclear war more likely rather than deterring it.

Lurking in the background are the contractors and their lobbyists who are breathing sighs of relief that the budget deal makes it a lot more likely that those discussions won’t be happening.

While hiding behind expressions of devotion to “the troops,” they can now contemplate the enormous profits to be had by building, for example, yet another aircraft carrier battle group. This would be added to the 10 the U.S. already has. No other country has more than two. China has one, a secondhand one bought from Russia, with a Chinese-made model on the way.

Overall the U.S. spends four times what China is spending on its military, nine times more than Russia, and more than the next eight countries — including China and Russia — put together.

The Pentagon’s notorious record of waste should also be enough to make us skeptical that sending huge amounts of new money to the Pentagon is the way to make us safer. Just this week Politico reported that the Defense Logistics Agency couldn’t explain what happened to $800 million in its expenditures to contractors.

This isn’t the time to be opening the Treasury to more of this kind of thing. But that, it appears, is what we are doing.

Miriam Pemberton is a federal budgeting expert and an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


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