Attack of the Pork Barrel Posse

On March 14 the House of Representatives passed the largest military budget increase in twenty years at $393.8 billion dollars.

Now, as the Senate Budget Committee mulls further add-ons to the Fiscal Year 2003 budget, taxpayers should take more than a cursory glance at the final, over-stuffed product, particularly the part that reflects not the military's needs, but congressional pork barrel posses from around the country.

Anyone who has been to Senator John McCain's website knows he has a special page called "pork barreling," in which he lists suspect bills and statements by other members. In a recent press release excoriating corporate welfare at its best, he lambastes Congress and the president for passing an outrageous lease deal for the Air Force for modified Boeing 767s to replace its fleet of aging KC-135 aerial tankers.

The lease plan -- passed in December, and now under debate in the Air Force -- would cost taxpayers a total of $30 billion over ten years. According to McCain, the Boeing lease plan is five times the cost of purchasing the planes. Worse still, McCain says, the tankers are not even listed in the Air Force's top 60 priorities, or even in its procurement plan for the next six years. But taxpayers have already spent over two billion modernizing the current tanker fleet in recent years. It is certainly a win-win for Boeing, since after the lease is up, taxpayers will also provide the cash to refit the planes for civilian use and deliver them back to Boeing.

You can thank Washington state Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell for that convenient corporate handout, as well as Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens, who is the ranking member of both the Senate Appropriations Committee and Defense Appropriations subcommittee. As Senator Murray says, "It is in our national interest ... to keep our only commercial aircraft manufacturer healthy in tough times."

Washington state's connection to the deal is clear, since they will be constructing the planes, but why Alaska? Watch dog group Public Citizen notes that Boeing gave Senator Stevens $3,000 in 2001, and during the 2000 election cycle, donated $10,000 to his candidate committee and $1,000 to his PAC.

Apparently this deal wasn't sweet enough. House Speaker Dennis Hastert felt the need to decorate the cake a bit more, and added the leasing of four new Boeing 737s for congressional VIPs to the bill. And it's no wonder the bill passed with support from both sides of the aisle. Boeing handed out $1.9 million to federal parties and candidates in the 1999-2000 election cycle and an additional $448,000 through June of 2001, divided almost equally between Republicans and Democrats, according to Public Citizen.

In another example of congress telling the military what it needs, the 2003 budget allocates $8.6 billion for five new ships, but the Navy says it can afford to put off construction for several years. Defense Week reported in February that when the Navy secretary testified that President Bush had requested enough ships for the coming year, Democratic and Republican senators and house members from states with naval shipyards apparently thought otherwise. Senators Ted Kennedy (D- MA), John Warner (R-VA) and Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS) complained the Navy shipbuilding rate was too low. They further suggested digging into Bush's $10 billion war reserve fund to the build ships the Navy says it doesn't need.

Even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says enough already. Rumsfeld testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services on Feb. 5 that the military doesn't need 23 percent of its bases, yet Congress disagrees. Most recently, Congress has delayed the latest round of closings until 2005. Opponents of closings include Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and Armed Services Committee member James M. Inhofe (R-OK). The Pentagon estimates it's missing out on $3 billion in savings every year it keeps obsolete bases open.

If any doubt remains as to the myriad of ways the Pentagon budget is not only overblown already, but will balloon even more, the advocacy group Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities notes that experts within the Pentagon and GAO agree that the Department of Defense fails to keep track of a quarter of its budget. Programs that have nothing to do with the war on terrorism make up 44 percent of the new budget. Nonetheless, after 9/11 any congressman who argues that "we don't have the resources to defend America," as Henry Stonecipher, vice-president of Boeing said, "won't be there after next November."

Regrettably, he has a point.

Jonathan Reingold is a research assistant for the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute and a military analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.

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