As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bipartisan Military Spenders

Here's yet more examples why Obama's fight to end wasteful military spending and corrupt federal contracts is going to be so difficult, because in a very real sense it means taking on the heart of the Washington establishment itself.

When President Obama promised Wednesday to attack defense spending that he considers wasteful and inefficient, he opened a fight with key lawmakers from his own party.

It was Democrats who stuffed an estimated $524 million in defense earmarks that the Pentagon did not request into the 2008 appropriations bill, about $220 million more than Republicans did, according to an independent estimate. Of the 44 senators who implored Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in January to build more F-22 Raptors -- a fighter conceived during the Cold War that senior Pentagon officials say is not suited to probable 21st-century conflicts -- most were Democrats.

And last July, when the Navy's top brass decided to end production of their newest class of destroyers -- in response to 15 classified intelligence reports highlighting their vulnerability to a range of foreign missiles -- seven Democratic senators quickly joined four Republicans to demand a reversal. They threatened to cut all funding for surface combat ships in 2009.

Within a month, Gates and the Navy reversed course and endorsed production of a third DDG-1000 destroyer, at a cost of $2.7 billion.

I think the whole earmark "problem" is completely overblown, distorting because many of the earmarks are worthwhile projects, and overall they represent a tiny fraction of the overall budget. But it's undeniable that Democrats and Republicans are heavily invested in the military-industrial complex, just as much as defense contractors are invested in them. That's just a fact.

Democrats may talk about it differently, not as much about the need for a "strong national defense" but about the jobs these projects bring to their districts or their states. Either way, it's a symbol of the same corruption. Weapons producers give lots of money to politicians, politicians make sure they get lots of business from the government. And because large weapons systems like the F-22 Raptor are spread out among 44 states, there is enough support to basically maintain the status quo. There's also a sunk cost problem, when billions have already been spent on a lot of these useless programs. Some of them aren't even requested by the Defense Department.

Still, there is hope. When Raymond Odierno cancels contracts on bases in Iraq, you get the sense that the military is coming around to the need to keep down costs. Now we have to get Congress to think the same way.

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