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In the Fight Over Defense Cuts, Taxpayers Are the Real Losers

by Nan Swift / /

When it comes to defense, much of the rhetoric surrounding this issue, both in the Virginia senate race where defense contractors are a major source of employment for citizens of the state, and in the Presidential race, has focused on the potential effects of pending sequester cuts that will take $55 billion off the top of the current $562 baseline budget on January 3.

Unfortunately, by focusing solely on potential job losses (sincerely unfortunate though they would be), the larger more serious problem of the entrenched military-industrial complex, that a departing President Eisenhower so famously warned us about, and the enormous waste associated with the bloated Pentagon bureaucracy has been largely ignored.

For years, NTU has maintained a steady drum beat against costly, wasteful, and all too often unnecessary projects and programs. These include the risky and highly experimental IIB version of the Standard Missile-3, the costly Medium Extended Air Defense System, the superfluous F-35 joint strike fighter engine, the unreliable V-22 Osprey, and the similarly beleaguered F-35B aircraft  - just to name a few!

At a time of record spending and debt, with tough cuts looming just over the horizon, it can be hard to understand why programs with obvious, severe flaws that make little budgetary or strategic sense aren’t simply discontinued. This article from CNN, “Army to Congress: Thanks, but no Tanks,” articulates just how wasteful some defense spending can be, and just how hard it is to change:

CNN was allowed rare access to what amounts to a parking lot for more than 2,000 M-1 Abrams tanks. Here, about an hour's drive north of Reno, Nevada, the tanks have been collecting dust in the hot California desert because of a tiff between the Army and Congress.

The U.S. has more than enough combat tanks in the field to meet the nation's defense needs - so there's no sense in making repairs to these now, the Army's chief of staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told Congress earlier this year.

If the Pentagon holds off repairing, refurbishing or making new tanks for three years until new technologies are developed, the Army says it can save taxpayers as much as $3 billion.

But guess which group of civilians isn't inclined to agree with the generals on this point?

Congress.

To be exact, 173 House members - Democrats and Republicans - sent a letter April 20 to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, urging him to continue supporting their decision to produce more tanks.

That's right. Lawmakers who frequently and loudly proclaim that presidents should listen to generals when it comes to battlefield decisions are refusing to take its own advice.

You need to read the whole thing. The article goes on to describe the toxic combination of deep-seated special interests, campaign donations, and jobs that are spread out through as many congressional districts as possible for maximum influence. As former NTU staff member Andrew Moylan put it back in July:

The Defense Appropriations bill before the House this week spends $3.1 billion more than was even requested by military leaders. When you're outspending the wishes of budget-hungry bureaucrats, that's a serious problem.

It’s clear that despite the obvious problems and even more obvious opportunities to save money without negatively impacting our national security, there’s a serious lack of political will to enact the real reforms that are so urgently needed.

Sadly, when big government and big business collude in this manner it’s the taxpayers who end up on the hook for things like the 2,000 tanks gathering dust in the desert. And while it’s true that halting the pointless production of ever more unwanted tanks and other machines will mean a loss of jobs, what the candidates aren’t talking about it the increased prosperity that can flourish in other areas when funds aren’t so dramatically misallocated. Cutting spending means less borrowing and debt, decreasing the enormous drag on our economy. If taxpayers don’t have to shell out for a fighter jet engine we don’t need, that’s money that will still do enormous economic good, that has untold potential.