Merry Christmas, Defense Contractors!

The sad reality is that, behind all the flag-waving and patriotic rah-rah that lawmakers like to trot out when justifying defense funding that blows away the GDP of most countries, the Pentagon has become a giant jobs program.

Congress’ abomination of a defense spending bill is all about pleasing weapons manufacturers and diverting funds to useless projects.

Who says Democrats and Republicans can’t get along? This week president Obama signed a massive one-stop bill (a.k.a “Cromnibus”) that will keep the government funded until the end of the fiscal year. Among other things, the bill appropriates $1.1 trillion in funding—including over $550 billion for the Department of Defense.

That came on the heels of the bipartisan passage of a lamentable defense reauthorization bill that typically treated taxpayers like an afterthought. For example, the bill included a federal land grab and money for a women’s history museum, neither of which have anything to do with national security. 

Although Congress managed to stay within agreed upon budget caps for the second year in a row, that’s about the best that can be said for the Cromnibus. Indeed, lawmakers appeared to be primarily concerned with pleasing defense contractors and protecting defense jobs back in the District. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) found that the bill included billions of dollars that the Pentagon didn’t request. Among the unrequested programs were $341 million to modernize twelve Apache helicopters and nine Black Hawk helicopters, $1 billion to begin work on an additional San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship, $154 million for an additional P-8A Poseidon Navy surveillance aircraft and $1.46 billion for fifteen EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes.

However, the prize for the most egregious unrequested item goes to the $479 million to be spent on four additional F-35 fighter jets (bringing the total number funded to 38). The Joint Strike Fighter is the nation’s most expensive weapons program. It is also a perfect example of the threat and overspending produced by military industrial complex that president Eisenhower warned us about. The F-35 has a terrible track record. It’s 100 percent over budget and nowhere near a state where it can be used effectively or even safely.

The bill also provided $64 billion in war funding through the Overseas Contingency Operations account. However, in spite of its name, it would be wrong for readers to assume that the money is exclusively being used for programs related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For years now, both parties have used this account as a slush fund for budget items completely unrelated to the wars because they couldn’t be funded under the budget caps and through the regular process. The gimmick has allowed lawmakers to semi-secretly bloat the defense budget with pork, including—once again—billions of dollars for weapons systems that the Pentagon did not request.

But there is another secret that Washington doesn’t want you to know. While lawmakers are always crying about the pauperization of the Defense budget, especially after the implementation of the sequester caps, no one actually acknowledges the real cost to taxpayers of maintaining the United States’ global military presence and interventionist foreign policies. This bill, for instance, provides the DoD with $550 billion for its base budget, but if you add all the money spent on defense activities through other departments and interests, the total could be at least 30 percent higher.

Take fiscal year 2013, the last year the finalized data is available. That year the Pentagon’s base budget was $503 billion in fiscal year 2013. But that excludes an additional $82 billion in war funding, the $25 billion for the nuclear weapons programs contained in the Department of Energy’s budget, and all the defense related money spent through the Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and International Affairs. Once you add it all, the total defense spending for fiscal year 2013 is roughly $861 billion—and that’s not including interest, which amounts to roughly $58 billion. 

If you think that all this outside of DoD defense spending gives an opportunity to unscrupulous lawmakers to fund more pork you would be right. POGO found several nuclear boondoggles in the current defense bill, including $345 million in wasteful spending for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina that the Department of Energy had placed on “cold standby.” It also includes $335 million for the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee that POGO describes as having widely exceeded its original projected cost and is suffering from design mistakes and delays.

The defense funding shenanigans should raise eyebrows among Democratic partisans who are generally quick to point the finger at Republican defense hawks in Congress. But before anyone goes blaming Republicans solely for the Pentagon largesse, it should be noted that many of the unrequested items just happen to benefit companies in the district of Senate defense-appropriations subcommittee chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL), and that President Obama isn’t a scrooge when it comes to war costs. In other words, runaway defense spending is a bipartisan problem.

The sad reality is that, behind all the flag-waving and patriotic rah-rah that lawmakers like to trot out when justifying defense funding that blows away the GDP of most countries, the Pentagon has become a giant jobs program. That might be good for weapons contractors and the people they employ, but it certainly isn’t good for taxpayers and definitely not good for national security.