American GIs survive on modest salaries and fight with aging equipment. Some 5,000 military families are on food stamps. The Army suffers a $3.3 billion shortfall in basic ammunition. Maintenance problems grounded one third of Marine Corps aircraft last August.
Meanwhile, a warship grows in Pascagoula. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.) added $460 million to this fiscal year’s defense budget for an LHD-8 Navy amphibious assault ship the Pentagon never requested. Since FY 2000, Lott has earmarked $835 million for this vessel, thus benefiting his neighbors and donors at the Ingalls Shipyard. In fact, from his front porch, Lott can watch his toy boat being built.
“Pork is in the eye of the beholder,” Lott recently explained to reporters. “Where I’m from, that’s federal programs that go north of Memphis.”
With this faintly sketched profile in courage leading the Senate, it’s no wonder that the defense budget brims with shiny objects inserted on Capitol Hill. The GOP Congress treats the Pentagon budget as a camouflaged community chest whose contents delight constituents at the expense of national security.
Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based watchdog group, found $9.6 billion in pork in the fiscal 2001 budget, up 7 percent from last year’s total. A 96-page printout CAGW generated details 1,147 projects that the Pentagon never solicited. Some appear legitimate, such as $2 million for an Air Force hazardous-gas detection program, $2.5 million for a Navy man-overboard indicator and $15 million for Army night-vision devices. But even these seemingly worthwhile initiatives never were weighed against other priorities through the budget process. Members of Congress simply tossed them into the budget like kids lobbing boxes of Nilla Wafers into Mom’s shopping basket.
Between 1978 and 1999, the Air Force requested just five C-130 transports at $50 million each. Congress bought 257 more of these propeller-driven aircraft since they are built in Marietta, Georgia, once represented by Republican ex-congressman Newt Gingrich and former Democratic senator Sam Nunn. This year’s budget includes $164.6 million for additional C-130s. It also features $21 million for a Mississippi-based Civil Air Patrol weather reconnaissance squadron the Air Force does not want and $60 million for a 737 the Navy never proposed.
Even worse are items that cannot be disguised as defense-related. The Pentagon budget boasts $4 million for dental research, $7 million for a diabetes plan, and $8.7 million for a Navy rural health program. The National Bone Marrow Program costs $34 million, not to mention $100 million for prostate-cancer research and $175 million to study breast cancer. Even if these funds fuel breakthroughs, they do not belong in the Pentagon’s spending plan any more than the Health and Human Services budget should underwrite torpedoes and flame throwers.
Alaska’s Ted Stevens, the Porky Pig of the Senate Republican caucus, slipped in $86.4 million for ventures in his state including $12 million for the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. Originally designed to harness the energy of the aurora borealis, HAARP’s new assignment is to heat the ionosphere to facilitate military communications. (Bye-bye, polar ice cap!) This program — worthy of The X-Files — has scored $70 million since 1995. Details are online at www.haarp.alaska.edu.
Ugliest of all are corporate-welfare programs masquerading as defense items. Weyerhaeuser, not Washington, should have spent $2 million on wood-composite technology research. $3 million for “coal-based advanced thermally stable jet fuel” sounds like a job for Arco, not the Air Force. Eco-conscious companies, not taxpayers, should have funded $5.5 million for a “sustainable green manufacturing” scheme.
Dayton, Ohio’s National Center for Industrial Competitiveness costs $1.8 million and is dedicated to “the economic development needs of the Great Lakes Region,” its web page says. Those states’ legislatures should cut taxes instead.
The National Automotive Center in Warren, Michigan won $12.5 million, in part to build a smart truck. As pork-busting Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) observed, “the intellect of this truck will be such that it will not only be capable of heating up a burrito, but will also be able to perform advanced calculus while quoting Kirkegaard.”
The culprits here are not the generals and admirals at the Pentagon who wanted none of this nonsense. They would rather devote this money to boosting military readiness and the living conditions of their personnel.
Blame the theoretically thrifty Republican Congress. It continues to spend tax dollars like social democrats on spring break. And if America’s military strength suffers, so what? It’s just other people’s money.