Guest: Time to cut defense spending
By GENE JONES Guest Columnist
Published: Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.
As the slow growth economy grinds on for most Americans, one economic segment is unlikely to feel the pain -- the Department of Defense and defense contractors.
Within the last month, the House of Representatives passed a super-sized defense budget and most representatives voted to continue the folly in Afghanistan by funding the counterproductive war for another year. As a result, more soldiers will die and many more will incur lifelong health problems and disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The only military funding for Afghanistan should be for withdrawal.
In short, many representatives, often the very ones who yell the loudest about deficits, just voted to continue a counterproductive military operation, waste money and push us closer to the fiscal cliff.
The vote for the defense appropriation bill was so irresponsible that it funds weapon systems DOD didn't want. Instead of evaluating actual defense requirements in terms of the actual threats, the House of Representatives mostly rubber-stamped the Pentagon's requested budget and added more. The bill includes such extravagances as unnecessary weapons systems, $72 million for NASCAR and other sports sponsorships and nearly $388 million for military bands.
The Pentagon doesn't account for all of the money it spends and the result is predictable. The Final Forensic Audit Report of Iraq Reconstruction Funds found evidence of bribery, kickbacks, theft of government funds and property, inflated invoices, delivery of insufficient or inferior goods, and bid rigging. In March, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified to the Senate Budget Committee that it's "crazy" that the department is still unable to audit its finances and he added, "That's, frankly, something we owe the taxpayer."
Congress should demand accountability for our bloated military expenditures. We now spend about 57 percent of all discretionary federal spending on the military. This amount is more than the military budgets of the next 20 nations combined and most of them are friends and present no threat whatsoever. Potential enemies are few. In reality, we have no peer competitor when it comes to military capability. Every potential adversary knows that one of our nuclear submarines can take out their largest cities. China spends less than one-third as much on defense and Russia spends about one-tenth as much.
Congress continues to hand out corporate welfare, even though many defense corporations have an abominable record of fraud and abuse. Last month, United Technologies admitted selling China software that helped Beijing develop its first modern military attack helicopter and Armet Armored Vehicles was indicted on charges that it falsely represented the level of protection provided by armored vehicles used by convoys in Iraq.
The defense industry and the Pentagon argue that if their vast government subsidy is cut, the economy will suffer and jobs will be lost. Although the argument has some merit, it doesn't tell the whole story.
Their argument is correct that federal spending can boost economic activity and create jobs, as it does for the defense industry. Yet, spending on the military and war is not the most effective means to create jobs with federal dollars. Military expenditures have a smaller lasting effect, or multiplier effect, than the same amount spent in other areas like health and education.
In short, we need to get our fiscal house in order by ending the Pentagon boondoggle. It's unacceptable that DOD can't account for the billions of dollars it receives and that defense companies so often defraud the government.
We should scale back defense spending to a reasonable amount consistent with our security needs. Part of this savings can be used to invest in education, health, research and infrastructure. If we do so, we'll get more bang for the buck and build a stronger America. If we maintain the present course, we're walking closer to the fiscal cliff and a weaker America.
Gene Jones is the president of Florida Veterans for Common Sense, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. Email: Flveterans@aol
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