Congress went bigly on the budget

You get an F-35! And you get an F-35! Everyone gets an F-35!

There was a whole lot of crowing in Washington this week as Democratic and Republic leaders reached a budget deal to set funding levels for the remainder of this year and next. If you’ve heard anything about the deal – besides that it fails to protect 800,000 Americans in imminent danger of deportation – it’s probably that it gives a lot of money to the Pentagon.

Let’s start with what the deal does. For the current year (Fiscal Year 2018), the Pentagon’s budget was set to be constrained by spending caps put in place back in 2011, when Congress passed the Budget Control Act.

You may vaguely remember hearing about things like a “Super Committee” (it wasn’t that super in the end) and “sequestration” (not a monster, just a budget tool). That was the Budget Control Act. Ostensibly passed as a means of reining in federal spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, the legislation cut federal spending by roughly $100 billion and then held that spending steady, rising with inflation, for 10 years. But, Congress found this self-imposed fiscal restraint so abhorrent that it’s never actually lived by the limits, choosing instead to raise the caps every year or two.

That’s what Congress is doing again here. But this time, it’s gone bigly, as the President might say.  

The just announced spending deal adds $168 billion above those spending caps for the Pentagon over the next two years. That brings the Pentagon’s total budget to $700 billion for this year and $716 billion for next year. After adjusting for inflation, that’s a larger spending spree than at any time since World War II, with the exception of a few years under Obama at the peak of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars when we had 200,000 troops deployed in two major theaters of combat simultaneously.

Do we really need to spend roughly the GDP of Switzerland every year in one federal agency? Republicans, particularly those in the House and Senate Armed Services Committee would have you believe yes, yes we do. In fact House Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Senate Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) in announcing the deal declared that without these funds “our military would not be able to defend the nation.” Give the military $620 billion and they’re helpless but give them 8% more and everything will be ok? Makes total sense!  

But we’re at war, right?

But we’re at war, right? So, maybe it does make sense.

Let’s look at the numbers. The Pentagon recently announced that we’re spending about $45 billion per year in Afghanistan. Our war against ISIS? We’ve only just entered double digits ($11 billion) for the cost of the entire war so far. And those are the two BIG wars we’re actively fighting. I was never great at math, but we’re still a long way from $700 billion a year.

The truth is that the Pentagon’s current budget is full of examples of waste, fraud, abuse, and corporate welfare. In just one of these examples, Lockheed Martin made 59% of its total sales ($47.2 billion) in 2016 from just the Department of Defense. That’s $27.9 billion from the Pentagon. For one company. More than double the entire amount we’ve spent on the entire war against ISIS. And that same year they made $5.1 billion in profits. $3 out of every $5 they earned came directly from you and me via the Pentagon.

But, you might say, aren’t we buying cool planes and powerful bombs for all that money? Again, let’s just look at Lockheed Martin. Lockheed’s marquee weapons systems are the Littoral Combat Ship and the F-35 fighter jet, both billed as the future of warfare. Except the LCS is a warship that can’t survive combat and the F-35 is so bad that to call the $1.5 trillion plane a disaster is an understatement. Buying more of these failed weapons won’t keep us safe, but it will feed directly into a culture of cost overruns and delays that dominates the Pentagon.

On top of buying broken weapons, let’s remember that the Pentagon just announced it has no idea what happened to $800 million, tried to bury a report that said it could save $125 billion with basic business improvements, and does things like spend $41 million a year on viagra.

All of this adds up to a simple truth, throwing more money for money’s sake at the Pentagon is a horrible idea. We could choose as a nation to put that same money into things like turning the power back on in Puerto Rico, providing treatment to those suffering from the opioid addiction, or ensuring that no one in the wealthiest country on the planet lacks healthcare and a good education.

We could do that, but instead Congress chose to buy a few more F-35s. And that’s nothing that anyone should be crowing about.