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On Defense Budget, Army Fighting Congress

by Michael Tasselmyer / /

If it was up to General Ray Odierno, Congress wouldn't allocate $436 million towards building and upgrading new Abrams tanks. "[W]e would use that money in a different way," the Army chief of staff said recently.

The issue? Lawmakers (particularly in Ohio, where many production plants are located) are reluctant to cut off funding for the Abrams tank program, which provides jobs for industrial workers and a steady source of revenue for defense contractors. So even though the Army has explicitly stated that it doesn't need the nearly half billion dollars in federal support for the program, Congress wants to spend the money anyway.

The push for more tank funding comes on the heels of the Defense Department's 2014 budget request, which made clear that it wants to avoid the budget cuts it's facing after sequestration -- the request included $526.6 billion in discretionary spending, more than $52 billion above the amount allowed under the provisions of the Budget Control Act. Included in that total are proposals to fund costly programs such as the F-35 fighter jet renovations ($8.4 billion), nuclear attack submarines ($5.4 billion), and additional funding for "cyber operations" ($4.7 billion).

What's more, the existing Army tank force is, on average, less than 3 years old. According to the AP:

"The tanks that Congress is requiring the Army to buy aren't brand new. Earlier models are being outfitted with a sophisticated suite of electronics that gives the vehicles better microprocessors, color flat panel displays, a more capable communications system, and other improvements. The upgraded tanks cost about $7.5 million each, according to the Army.

Out of a fleet of nearly 2,400 tanks, roughly two-thirds are the improved versions, which the Army refers to with a moniker that befits their heft: the M1A2SEPv2, and service officials said they have plenty of them. 'The Army is on record saying we do not require any additional M1A2s,' Davis Welch, deputy director of the Army budget office, said this month."

Last year, over 170 Members of Congress supported additional tank funding. Members on both sides of the aisle who continue to support the investment program cite the boon it provides to local economies. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) said "People can't sit around for three years on unemployment insurance and wait for the government to come back. ... That supply chain is going to be much more costly and much more inefficient to create if you mothball the plant."