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Will Ties to Pentagon Contractors Push 'Supercommittee' Democrats to Cut Entitlements?

AlterNet teams up with Salon and Brave New Foundation to document how Dems on the Congressional "supercommittee" get far more military campaign money and contracts than the GOP.

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... The "doomsday mechanism" would reduce the Pentagon's "base" (non-war) budget to about $472 billion, the approximate level of the base [Department of Defense] budget in 2007. I do not recall anyone declaring our national security being "imperiled" at that spending level in 2007. In fact, that level of spending for the "base" (non-war) Pentagon budget was a sixteen year high…

Both Harrison’s and Wheeler’s analyses suggest that industry warnings about defense plants being shuttered are more scare tactic than reality. In addition to continued high levels of U.S. defense spending even in event of sequestration, the Pentagon has, for the last year, also taken substantive  countermeasures to shield its key contractors from future financial peril, including trips to Wall Street to lobby investors to bolster weapons-makers and brokering  deals with Persian Gulf states to keep assembly lines active and coffers full.  

Wheeler, however, believes there is no realistic chance of any substantive cuts even if the deficit panel flops and sequestration ensues. In his Salon piece, the Pentagon budget expert  wrote, “The supercommittee is bound to fail…when the committee fails, the defense cuts envisioned by the supposedly automatic trigger mechanism will not occur. That will be for the simple reason that almost no one wants that to happen.”

There’s good reason to believe Wheeler.  In an economic and electoral environment in which creating and preserving jobs dominates the political discourse, big defense firms have the power to punish elected representatives by moving existing jobs to, or locating future projects in, states where lawmakers are willing to more readily play ball with them. Given that, is Patty Murray ready to risk the jobs of 30,000 Boeing workers building refueling aircraft for the Air Force in Everett, Washington? Will Texas’s Jeb Hensarling look past the 1,100 Textron workers in Amarillo working on the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft?  Will Rob Portman be willing to go back on his promise to “fight to support Ohio jobs that are integral to our national security,” specifically those at the General Dynamics tank-manufacturing plant in Lima, Ohio and the General Electric aircraft engine factory in the Cincinnati suburb of Evendale?  

Which Side Are You On?

There’s little reason to believe that Jon Kyl will need to make good on his threat to walk out on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.  While he may be the most vocal member when it comes to protecting the Pentagon budget, he sits across the aisle from panel members with markedly deeper ties and tighter financial bonds to the defense industry.

This year, the National Labor Relations Board, an independent government agency established to protect workers’ rights, filed a complaint alleging Boeing  violated labor law by opening a new  $750 million manufacturing plant for commercial airliners in James Clyburn’s South Carolina in order to punish Boeing workers in Patty Murray’s Washington State for repeated strikes.  In the immediate wake of Boeing decision to set up shop in South Carolina, a spokesperson for Murray  said , “She won't be as inclined to work for anything not Washington state-related for this company,” but the Boeing-funded senator has thus far refused to even  weigh in on the NLRB ruling.   The Boeing-supported Clyburn, for his part,  contends the weapons-maker has done nothing wrong.

After a meeting earlier this year with Boeing’s chief executive officer, Jim McNerney, Clyburn  defended the defense giant’s decision to relocate its operations to South Carolina, but hedged his bets.  "I am pro-business. I am pro-union. I am not anti-business. I am not anti-union," he said.