Wasted Words, Wasted Dollars

Posted June 1, 2009 at 12:25pm

As families across America struggle to trim their monthly budgets, they’re unlikely to cut back on milk and eggs in order to buy a second Jet Ski. Yet Blue Dog Democrats recently did something similar by cutting $10 billion out of the $540 billion in domestic spending proposed by President Obama, while turning a blind eye to nearly $664 billion in defense spending that independent reports show is rife with billions in wasted taxpayer dollars. Those on the political left disagree with Blue Dogs on numerous issues — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care reform, seersucker suits — but elected officials of every political stripe should be reaching across party lines to eliminate waste in federal spending, make government run more efficiently and save taxpayers some money. Yet the Blue Dogs constantly undermine their own motto of fiscal discipline by ignoring the hundreds of billions of dollars in wasteful Pentagon spending, helping neither troops nor taxpayers nor our grandchildren. This is especially true after so many years where military spending was the major growth area in the budget. Last year, the Government Accountability Office’s annual review of the top Pentagon programs uncovered nearly $300 billion in cost overruns. Numerous GAO reports have shown how the most expensive defense programs have failed to deliver on even modest expectations. Consider one big example, the Joint Strike Fighter, a plane originally conceived as a cost-saving fighter jet for the Air Force, Marines and Navy. Widely acknowledged as the most expensive weapons program in history, the JSF’s life-cycle cost will add up to some $1 trillion — a cost roughly equivalent to this year’s stimulus package. Yet GAO reports show that the JSF has exceeded its original budget by nearly 50 percent, due to multiple scheduling delays brought on by engine failures, electrical malfunctions and unsafe designs. And after years of delays, military experts aren’t even sure when the first JSF will roll off the production line. Whenever that is, by then the price tag will be huge. America isn’t going to be challenged in dogfights anytime soon. We face much more immediate threats: hundreds of thousands of workers losing their jobs every month, millions uninsured, a housing collapse, global warming, a ballooning deficit. Yet, instead of eliminating the Joint Strike Fighter and saving taxpayers a bundle, the Pentagon just accelerated the program, adding several billion dollars to next year’s budget. The Pentagon accelerated other defense boondoggles with questionable utility and enormous price tags, including the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships, whose cost has more than doubled to an eye-popping $500 million a copy. The Pentagon also staved off expected cuts of its gold-plated DDG-1000 submarines, which cost an incredible $3.3 billion each. The GAO has said that number could climb to $5 billion. And military experts agree that the United States faces no credible threats from any enemy navy in the foreseeable future. Failing defense contracts don’t do our troops any favors and drain hundreds of billions of dollars out of taxpayers’ wallets. Those that protect these wasteful programs aren’t supporting our military — they’re promoting the equivalent of the Navy’s infamous $600 toilet seat. It’s fiscal insanity, plain and simple. In the face of numerous crises at home and abroad, we need to put tired dogmas to bed. Republicans and Democrats — including the Blue Dogs — should remember that fiscal discipline is just a trite phrase unless it includes the Pentagon, too, where waste is commonly acknowledged but rarely weeded out.Steve Cobble is co-founder of Progressive Democrats of America.