THE "QUAGMIRE" IN THE U.S. CONGRESS:
STRIPPING FUNDS FROM THE DEFENSE BUDGET
By Alan Caruba
Defense spending has become, for both Representatives and Senators, a huge “pork” boondoggle with which to impress the voters “back home” that their elected legislators are making sure that millions flow to their respective states. In order to achieve this, the troops in the field are literally being denied the training, weapons maintenance, and spare parts needed to engage the enemy.
You will not read about this in your local newspaper, and you will surely not hear about it on any television news program. But you can read about it elsewhere -- in Winslow T. Wheeler’s new book, just out this month, The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security ($28.95, Naval Institute Press.) To its credit, the Washington Post has published some of his commentaries on the subject, such as his August 22, 2004, analysis of the gigantic $416 billion appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Defense in July. There was a mind-boggling $8.9 billion in pork, i.e., non-military related pork in the bill.
Wheeler has worked on national security issues for over thirty years, serving members in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. He also worked nine years in the General Accounting Office, the Congressional watchdog agency. In 2002, he was pressured to resign from the Senate Budget Committee staff because of a commentary he wrote that revealed the extent of self-serving budget-busting going on. He is currently a visiting senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information.
His book is a devastating expose. For example, he writes that, after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, Senators added $4 billion in “irrelevant and useless projects for their home states to the U.S. defense budget. At the same time, they stripped $2.4 billion out of the defense appropriations bill from accounts “that supported military training, weapons maintenance, spare parts, and other military ‘readiness’ items (just the things soldiers need most) to help pay for the pork. This was done just as the first American casualties were coming home from the fighting in Afghanistan, some of them in boxes.”
Wheeler is particularly damning in his description of Senator John McCain, a former Vietnam war prisoner and hero, who, while loudly decrying the waste, has done nothing to stop it or even slow it down. Another Senator, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Wheeler’s former boss, Senator Pete V. Domenici (R-NM), both come in for comparable criticism, but it is every member of Congress that is involved. “Congress is not just dithering with national security,” writes Wheeler, “it is trashing it.”
Can you imagine a defense appropriation bill stuffed with money for parking garages, fisheries, and gymnasiums? And this was but a small part of the more than 100 amendments added to the 2002 bill to fund the Department of Defense. “Members of Congress add hundreds, nay thousands, of these home state additions, variously called ‘member adds,’ 'congressional’ or ‘line-items’, ‘state impacts’, or just ‘pork’ to defense-related legislation each year.”
In the process, “a grand total of $1.1 billion in the FY 2003 O&M budget” was added!
And, to be fair, this bill was signed by the President. This isn’t just politics as usual. This is politics run amuck! It is the wholesale fleecing of the money taxpayers send to the federal government in the belief that it will be wisely and carefully allocated to our defense needs.
Nor can Wheeler be accused of partisan politics. As noted, he has worked for members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and his book meticulously documents this mindless spending on projects that have nothing to do with defense and everything to do with being reelected.
The nation’s press has completely failed Americans in its reporting of this grand theft. “Journalists are missing a fundamental story that has far more serious consequences than they appreciate; most do not even understand the process,” says Wheeler.
Both the politicians opposing the current war effort and those supporting it are putting the lives of our military personnel in jeopardy, along with the successful outcome of the war. The voters are returning most of them to office based on their self-serving news releases trumpeting what they are doing for their constituents.
We have found where the real “quagmire” is located. It is in the Congress of the United States of America. What can be done about it? It can be exposed, as Wheeler is trying to do, and it can be opposed by bringing pressure --- letters, faxes, and emails --- on the members of Congress to stop!
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