Backing Out of Budget Cuts: The Corruption of the Defense Industry
This past Sunday Sen. Pat Toomey appeared on NBC’s This Week to say that he and his colleagues think that it is important that they ” reconfigure” the automatic spending cuts incurred by the super committee failure to not allow for any cuts to the defense budget. The argument for the reconfiguration is that these cuts will hurt national defense and therefore should not be allowed. This view has the support of defense secretary Panetta who has recently said that the automatic cuts “would lead to a hollow force incapable of sustaining the missions it is assigned.”
Is there any truth to the point of view would lead to a “hollowing out” of our defense force? Former assistant defense secretary Lawrence Korb thinks that the answer to this question is no. Korb described the characterization of defense cuts by Panetta as “palpable nonsense” and added that politicians who support Panetta’s views are ”acting like good bureaucrats … trying to protect their rice bowls.”
In order to put this issue in to perspective let us look at just how much the United States spends in defense. The following chart shows how U.S. defense spending compares to that of other countries.
As you can see, America spends nearly seven times what China is spending on defense and way more (more than a third of every tax dollar) than any other country that could actually be considered a threat to national security. We are spending more on nuclear weapons now than we did during the Cold War and, what’s more, we could cut our defense budget in half and still be way ahead of these countries in defense spending. Pauline Jelinek of the associated press helps to describe just how much we spend in relation to other countries:
In the 10 years since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, annual budgets for the military have nearly doubled to close to $700 billion. The U.S. accounts for nearly half of the defense money spent around the world — more than the next 17 nations combined. The U.S. naval fleet is as big as the next 13 navies combined, according to various analyses and some of the Pentagon’s own accounting in recent years.
If we can slash the budget and still maintain our standing as the country that spends the most on defense then why is there so much talk about how this would hurt national defense? The answer is simple: money. Last year the defense industry spent $145 million in lobbying efforts and has spent $171 million in campaign contributions since 1990. Furthermore, after the midterm election there was a group of freshman Republican representatives, who liked to be referred to as the “lucky 13″, were actively engaged in soliciting money from the defense industry. These representatives included Vicky Hartzler (MO), Scott Palazzo (MS), Austin Scott (GA), Jon Runyan (NJ), Mo Brooks (AL), Chris Gibson (NY), Tim Griffin (AR), Joe Heck (NV), Scott Rigell (VA), Martha Roby (AL), Bobby Schilling (IL), Allen West (FL) and Todd Young (IN).
All of this lobbying by the defense contractors is simply so they can maintain their addiction to tax payer money and profit at the expense of the American public. A report that was spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) found that “The ugly truth is that virtually all of the major defense contractors in this country for years have been engaged in systemic fraudulent behavior, while receiving hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.” Also, the effective tax rate for the largest defense contractors has been steadily going down “from an already paltry 19.3 percent in 2008 to a tiny 10.6 percent by 2010″ according to The Examiner. What is more infuriating is that the government reimburses the costs of pensions of defense contractors while targeting cuts to the pensions of veterans.
It’s time that our government started thinking about our defense budget in a way that benefits the American people rather than a way that creates profit for large corporate interests. The latest scheme to do away with the automatic defense spending cuts demonstrates that this is not going to happen. Furthermore, this effort to funnel more money to defense contractors might succeed because there are many Democrats that take money from these contractors as well; making the corruptive influence of the defense industry a bi-partisan issue. Once again we see that money rules all in Washington while the welfare of the people is merely an afterthought.