By Veronique de Rugy
Can you name the only caucus in either chamber of Congress that hasn’t voted in favor of breaking the sequester caps? If you guessed Senate Republicans, you’re right!
But that could soon change. The Senate is about to take up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which bill authorizes $552 billion in defense spending. That is $54 billion over the existing cap of $498 billion. That’s unfortunate, and it was perfectly preventable. House Republicans could have avoided the current struggle if they’d stuck to the original BCA sequester caps. Instead, refusing to trim the Pentagon, the Republicans normalized defense spending and gored domestic programs to make up the difference.
That move broke what had been a bipartisan agreement on spending levels. As a result, House leadership had to pull a transportation and HUD appropriations bill, embarrassed, because Democrats and moderate Republicans pointed out it was simply underfunded. The House could have passed all of the appropriations bills if they’d stuck to the original bipartisan agreement.
Senate Republicans must now be the adults in the room and vote down the NDAA because it spends beyond budget caps. This is more than symbolic: Democrats, though weakened by Obamacare, recognize that Republicans aren’t unified on the sequester. They’ll use this chance to try to force Senate Republicans to break their allegiance to sequester. Or, as Senator Grassley put it, House Republicans have fed “Senate Republicans to the wolves.”
I’d like to give a caution to rumors that we hear about sequestration: that there will be compromise on sequestration so we can spend more on defense. And since the economy is so bad and since jobs are what’s on everybody’s mind and what we ought to be working on. I hope we keep in mind the economic strength is a necessary pre-condition to our military strength. Without economic strength there won’t be any national security. Compromising on sequester on more money for the military I think is short-sighted. Hopefully those suggestions you hear primarily out of the House of Representatives won’t be pursued… This is kind of like feeding Senate Republican’s to the wolves.
Video clip here.
With the ongoing budget negotiations, Senate Republicans need to maintain a unified front in defense of the sequester. Currently, they’re the only part of the government committed to limiting spending, so hopefully they stay strong. House Republicans caved long ago.
Reneging on promises to restrain spending through spending caps barely two years after their adoption sends a message all Americans need to understand: Congress won’t control its spending. How can conservatives credibly stand up for fiscal responsibility when all it seems they want is low taxes and high spending?
It is worth noting that for all the complaints about how the defense caps and sequester cuts are hurting our ability to defend the nation, there is a substantial amount of waste and abuse in the Department of Defense. In fact, it’s hard to take seriously the complaints coming from the Department of Defense about the cuts when it is running, and has been running for years, massive cost overruns on nearly ever program. In fact, a few weeks ago, Senator McCain made the case that the Navy’s inability to control its programs’ costs undermines the fight to get rid of sequester cuts. He mentioned in particular a $2 billion in cost overruns for the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford. One story quoted McCain saying the following:
“It harms. It does great damage to the argument that they make of how damaging sequestration is, when they don’t get these cost overruns under control,” McCain told reporters outside a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on sequestration last week.
During the hearing, the service chiefs once again testified to the detrimental effects of ongoing across-the-board budget cuts.
Among other things, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told lawmakers that sequestration will particularly hit the Navy’s investment accounts, forcing it to “cancel the planned procurement of Virginia Class submarine, a littoral combat ship and an afloat-forward staging base ship, and we will be forced to delay the delivery of the next aircraft carrier, the Ford, and delay the midlife overhaul of the aircraft carrier George Washington. Also we’ll have to cancel procurement of at least 11 tactical aircraft.”
“I share all of your views, but you’ve left out a couple of items. One of them is the continued cost overruns of our weapons systems,” McCain said to the service chiefs during the hearing.
Greenert said that the Navy would need another $500 million to finish the Ford carrier, a program that is already more than $2 billion over its original contract, which pegged the initial cost of the Ford at $10.5 billion. The Ford carrier was christened on November 9 in Newport News, VA and is about 70 percent complete, according to the Navy.
But the cost growth of the Ford program, one of several programs where the Navy has seen overruns, is of particular concern to Congress.
“Has anybody been fired from their job as a result of a $2 billion cost overrun of an aircraft carrier?” McCain asked Greenert, to which he responded that he did not know.
He’s right, and it isn’t new either. And yet nothing changes. There’s no need to remind readers of the torrent of stories about waste in the DOD’s acquisition system. A good example of this is, of course, is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has doubled in price and is a decade late. But the problems are elsewhere, too: In case you haven’t read it, I recommend this piece in Reuters about the terrible bookkeeping practices — and fraud — going on at DOD. But the Pentagon isn’t only to blame. As Michi Iljazi of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance notes today, Congress shares a large part of the blame, for continuing to fund expensive projects that even the Pentagon doesn’t want:
Finally, TPA was very diligent to identify additional funding requests that members of congress were making as the House debated and passed their defense authorization bill last summer and we will also be looking at what Senators are requesting. The most important part for taxpayers to consider is that this is funding NOT being requested by the Pentagon. There has been a constant stream of warnings from those in the DoD who have stressed that sequestration would do harm and that the cuts need to be reversed. Unfortunately, this repeated mantra would seem at odds with Senators who have no trouble asking for taxpayers to spend more money on something those very officials haven’t even mentioned in their pleas regarding the sequester. Here is a partial list of some of the needless funding that Senators will be looking to add to the NDAA this week:
- C-130 modernization: The Senate NDAA would add an additional $47.3 million.
- EP-3 Modernization and Sensor Upgrades: The Senate NDAA would add an additional $5 million in sustainment funds as well as $5 million for sensor modifications.
- DDG-51 Procurement: The Senate NDAA would add an additional $100 million to purchase one more DDG-51.
- Defense Rapid Innovation Program: The Senate NDAA would provide $150 million.
This is just a sample of the problems that have been going on for years at the expense of taxpayers and at the expense of a better defense. The sad part of all: While there’s lots of money wasted on weapons and employees that the Pentagon doesn’t need or shouldn’t be paying for, other areas are underfunded. But allowing the defense budget to grow without constraint isn’t the solution to this problem. In fact, the opposite is likely true: Maintaining the budget caps and sequester levels will force the DOD and Congress to make some adjustments, identify some priorities and shunt others, and cut ineffective and useless spending, but that should be be seen as a good and necessary step toward better defense.