The Free Press
— For the second time in about two years, Congress has again pushed for spending on equipment the Defense Department says it doesn’t need.
A bipartisan coalition of members of Congress has again pushed for some $500 million to continue building Abrams tanks that the Defense Department says it doesn’t need.
“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, told the Associated Press.
The Army has a fleet of 2,400 Abrams tanks, two thirds of them the new and improved version coming from a retrofitting of older tanks at a cost of $7.5 million each. The fleet, on average, is less than three years old.
David Welch, deputy director of the Army budget office, told the Associated Press earlier this month that the Army is “on record” that it doesn’t require any additional tanks.
Yet a pair of renowned Republican budget hawks, Sen. Robb Portman and Rep. Jim Jordan, apparently disagree. It’s no coincidence that the tank production takes place in their home state of Ohio. Ohio Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown is also on board. All claim this is not pork barrel politics but rather necessary spending for the national defense.
This spending fiasco gets worse. It turns out that the Army only wants to scale back production of the retrofitted tanks (which include color flat panel displays) until 2017 when a new version of the tank would be ready. The Army hoped to use some of that money for design and engineering of the new tank. In the meantime, the plant would be kept somewhat busy building tanks for sale to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
But like many defense projects, the subcontracts and jobs related to them are spread far and wide across many constituencies of influential members of Congress.
That has led 173 Democratic and Republican members of Congress to send a letter to the Obama administration supporting the tank program.
We’ve seen this before.
In 2010, more than 200 members of Congress (about half Democrats and half Republicans) approved a $485 million appropriation for so called “backup” jet engine program against the wishes of the Defense Department.
Members of Congress argued then that the backup program was needed in case the initial contractor somehow failed in its duties to deliver jet engines.
Fortunately, a 2011 vote in the House stripped the spending on the backup jet engine program from the House. The ultimate compromise bill, however, left open the option for funding.
Cutting spending shouldn’t be this difficult for a Congress where some members shout fiscal restraint from every street corner.
Congress would do well again to strip this unnecessary spending from the military budget at the request of military leaders.