Armed with Irony

If irony is a crucial ingredient for comedy, the House of Representatives can be a laugh riot. Lately, there’s been some serious silliness about sequestration and Pentagon spending.

In September, the House took up a bill to fund the government for another six months — a stopgap measure to kick funding decisions for fiscal year 2013 to the next Congress. On the very same day, the House passed legislation introduced by Rep. Allen West (R-FL) to halt military spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act, yet another stopgap measure.

The irony behind West’s “National Security and Jobs Protection Act,” is stunning.

First, West — along with many of the new bill’s supporters — was among the 343 members of Congress who passed the Budget Control Act last year. Second, the bill was debated amid a flurry of hearings and reports on wasteful Pentagon spending. And finally, the bill prescribes the very same kind of government-sponsored economic stimulus that the Florida Republican claims to despise.

West says he voted for the Budget Control Act to ensure that President Barack Obama doesn’t get “a blank check to continue his spending binge.” But his new bill — which the Senate won’t touch and the White House vowed to veto — would lower the budget cap on discretionary funds while removing the “firewall” between defense and non-military spending. That means the Pentagon would get off the hook while civilian agencies like transportation and energy take an even bigger hit than anticipated.

MindFrieze/Flickr

MindFrieze/Flickr

Yet on the same day the bill reached the House floor, there were several hearings on problematic security spending and waste. The House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee held a hearing on a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report revealing that hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of fuel in Afghanistan had gone missing. The House Armed Services Committee simultaneously held a hearing on deadly cockpit malfunctions in the F-22 Raptor, a ridiculously expensive white-elephant aircraft that some members of Congress are trying to revive after its cancellation three years ago.

The very next day, there was another House Armed Services committee hearing on waste in Pentagon contracting, followed by one later that week questioning the Defense Department’s slow progress toward achieving an audit. Oh, and the National Research Council reported that missile defense — the most expensive military program ever at $200 billion and counting — is a flop.

The opponents of allowing military spending cuts to be subjected to sequestration — the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that kick in if Congress fails to meet certain budget-cutting goals — are also launching a strangely partisan fight over the role of government in job creation.

Consider Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s take. When the Virginia Republican touched on the national security consequences of sequestration, he spent the bulk of his floor time complaining about its effect on jobs in his district, down to the grocer who provides produce to military bases. The contradiction inherent in his arguments — that government-driven jobs programs are bad unless they involve defense — seemed lost on him. You can’t have it both ways.

There’s a simple fix for sequestration. In fact, it’s written right in the Budget Control Act: Cut the budget by $1.2 trillion to shrink the deficit. My organization, Taxpayers for Common Sense, came up with $1.5 billion in proposed cuts last year, and in a few weeks we will release a proposal that would cut billions more in spending.

If lawmakers really want to stop blank checks for spending binges, they should start with the Pentagon, not stop short of it. Any fiscal plan that refuses to take on the military budget — which has more than doubled in the past decade, constitutes nearly 60 percent of our discretionary spending, and is rife with waste to boot — isn’t just inefficient, it’s dangerous. Our economic strength is our first line of defense, and the best way to protect it is to make every part of government vigilant against waste.

Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan federal budget watchdog. www.taxpayer.net
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