Op-Ed, 489 words

Fantasy Budgeting Won’t Make Us Safer

Ryan Alexander

The watchword in Washington has been “cut” for some time. But the House of Representatives headed in the opposite direction when it adopted its version of the National Defense Authorization bill.

The bill authorizes $552 billion in military spending next year. That’s $54 billion more than what bipartisan majorities agreed to under current law in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

The House also added $5 billion on top of the $80 billion the Pentagon requested for the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which covers war fighting. While the Pentagon is scaling back activities in Afghanistan, Congress wants to ramp up spending in this area.

TCS-Pentagon Budget-Kevin H.

Kevin H./Flickr

The bill is unlikely to become law, certainly not as written. President Barack Obama has already issued a veto threat and the Senate has a different (though still wasteful) approach. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be significant negative consequences.

Fantasy budgeting has a real impact when it crashes into reality. Instead of either living within the lower spending levels Congress already enacted or finding a fiscally responsible solution, lawmakers are approaching the situation like little children with hands over their ears yelling “I can’t hear you” repeatedly. Then — when the budget caps strike — lawmakers lament that cuts are not targeted or cut certain areas too deeply, when their inaction is what caused the impact.

“I’m tired of living in a town where if you don’t like the rules, you find a way around them,” Representative Woodall (R-GA) observed. There were several amendments to help the Pentagon get its budgetary house in order.

A proposed $60 billion cut would have brought the overall spending in line with the levels called for in the statute. Another amendment would have given the Pentagon the Overseas Contingency Operations budget it actually asked for without the extra $5 billion. One provision would have made the National Guard stop sponsoring NASCAR and professional wrestling. A measure would have let the Navy decide whether it wanted 10 or 11 aircraft carriers. There was an effort to reduce troop levels in Europe. An amendment would have mandated proving that the missile defense system being implemented in Alaska actually works before throwing more cash at it.

They all failed.

The House leadership wouldn’t allow several pro-taxpayer amendments to be offered on the floor, including a measure that would cut funding for weapons systems the Pentagon doesn’t want and require our allies to bear a greater share of the costs of their security.

Taxpayers deserve better. At the end of the nine year period of spending caps under the Budget Control Act, military spending will be at the level it was in 2007. Nobody seemed to think more than half a trillion dollars was too little defense spending then. It certainly wouldn’t be now.

Instead of saving sacred military cows, lawmakers should make targeted and smart Pentagon budget cuts. Spending more won’t make us safer. But spending smarter will make us stronger.

Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a part of the Pentagon Budget Campaign, a broad national effort to rein in wasteful Pentagon spending. www.taxpayer.net
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