Last week the House passed a defense spending bill that increases military spending $17 billion over last year’s allocation. While many hawkish commentators have blasted Obama’s deficit reduction plan for supposedly prioritizing domestic spending over national defense, the shape of the recent House bill demonstrates that not all military spending is motivated by legitimate security concerns. ExecutiveGov describes the broad outlines of what went into this bill:
The bill would provide $530 billion to the Pentagon and $119 billion to cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would provide a 1.6 percent increase in pay and buy various warships, aircraft and weapons, including a C-17 cargo plane that the Pentagon did not request but is good news for the Boeing production line in Long Beach, Calif.
The Chicago Tribune also notes a questionable spending addition introduced in the House:
[The Bill] also barred the Pentagon from retiring six of 66 B-1 bombers, as the White House prefers. So what if these Cold War-era bombers look increasingly less vital in an age of pilotless drones? The measure prohibiting the use of funds to shelve the planes was sponsored by Texas Republican Randy Neugebauer — whose district happens to include a B-1 base.
Gooznews offers yet another example of an earmark slipped into the bill to serve political interests:
[T]he legislation includes $453.3 million for refurbishing 70 M1A2 Abrams tanks in Lima, Ohio. A coalition of legislators led by Ohioans Jim Jordan, a Republican from Lima, and Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Toledo, earmarked $272 million more than the Pentagon had requested in order to keep the plant, which employs about 1,000, operating throughout next year.
In anticipation of the bill’s passage, the White house threatened a veto “citing limits in the legislation on the president’s authority to transfer detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and money for defense programs the administration didn’t want.”
Before passage, the bill faced two attempts at limiting the size of the budget increase, from Barney Frank (D-MA) on the Democratic side and tea party-backed freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney, (R-SC):
In Congress this year, anti-war lawmakers and budget-conscious tea partyers have banded together to try to rein in military spending with some success.
“We are at a time of austerity,” Frank said. “We are at a time when the important programs, valid programs, are being cut back.”
Frank’s amendment to cut $8.5 billion failed on a 244-181 vote Thursday.
“Many of us have gone around back home and told people how serious we are,” Mulvaney said. “But how can we look them in the eye and tell them that we are serious about cutting spending and then come in and plus up the base defense budget?”
He added: “We have made hard decisions. We have made hard choices. The Defense Department needs to do exactly the same.”
His amendment to set the Pentagon budget at current levels failed 290-135.
Only 12 Republicans and 75 Democrats opposed bill in its final form, and many of those nay votes reflected a belief that the bill left the military underfunded. While Rep. Tom Price, (R-Ga), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, stated that “House Republicans demonstrated responsible leadership that sets priorities and does not jeopardize our national security interests and our nation’s ongoing military efforts,” the House has in fact constructed a bill that burdens taxpayers with additional spending of little relevance to national security concerns. Contrary to the Congressman’s statement, parochial political interests have been the priority, not national interests.
For more insights on how the budget allocation process often prevents rational allocations of security resources, review the “Budget Process Reform” section of FPIF’s FY 2012 Report on a Unified Security Budget.
In addition to facing a potential presidential veto, the house’s bill must also be reconciled with the Senate’s defense spending bill, which remains in committee. Some reports note that military reductions remain within the realm of the possible:
The secret Senate Democratic budget resolution drafted by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and shared with the White House suggests even larger cuts to the Pentagon which would see its budget slashed by more than $800 billion over 10 years, according to sources.
Bold action would be required to realize these potential cuts to the soaring military budget. Political leaders and the American people must recognize that defense cuts do not always equate to cuts in national security. Indeed, in this time of soaring budget deficits, a military spending bill that cuts out politically motivated programs would do little to damage American security, and would offer an opportunity to reallocate resources in more rationale directions.
Keith Menconi is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.