This week, lawmakers from the House of Representatives and the Senate have started hammering out the final version of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill that authorizes the Pentagon’s spending for the coming fiscal year. After both chambers pass the final version of the bill, it goes to the White House for the president’s signature, where it faces a possible veto over President Obama’s opposition to the use of budget gimmicks like the Overseas Contingency Operations funds, or OCO, to circumvent spending caps that were set into law by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
When the president announced his veto threat on the NDAA, the GOP lost no time going on attack mode, couching their arguments on troop welfare even though the bill places a number of cuts on troop and veteran benefits or that the Republicans also actively opposed the NDAA in 2009 and 2010. President Obama, they allege, is playing games with national security, merely trying to provoke confrontation and using the bill to increase spending on things that are unrelated to national security.
But these criticisms do not address the main issues with the NDAA. Despite the Republican push to make NDAA the law of the land, here are five reasons why the NDAA is a terrible bill that would simply allow wasteful spending at the Pentagon to continue and does little to create meaningful security.
1. The NDAA’s reliance on budget gimmicks only makes us less safe.
In an effort to circumvent spending caps that Congress placed on itself back in 2011, someone had the nifty idea of using OCO funds to pay for expenditures that the normal defense budget wouldn’t be able to pay for. See, OCO funds, unlike the traditional defense budget, is not subject to spending caps and therefore does not trigger sequestration. But using OCO to pay for day-to-day operation is just a budget gimmick, as emergency funds are now being used for items that could not be paid for using the usual budgeting process. Not only does this water down what OCO funds are originally designed to do, it also undermines the ability of our military leaders to plan for the long-term because they are being forced to rely on a supplemental pot of money that may or may not be around in future years.
2. Wasteful spending at the Pentagon drives up the cost of doing business without making our troops any more effective–and the NDAA is only adding to that problem.
There’s really no other word to describe wasteful spending in the Pentagon other than ‘epic.’ The F-22 program cost $67 billion dollars and did not fly a single mission in Iraq and Afghanistan even though it has been considered “operational” since 2002. During it’s lifetime, the F-35, the most expensive weapon system in history, will cost taxpayers a grand total of $1.5 trillion. The second littoral combat ship, which is under construction, is projected to bust its budget by $235 million–while the first one was already the most expensive warship in history at $13 billion. The failed Army’s Future Combat Systems cost us $18.1 billion–and it never even saw the light of day. It is Congress’ job to control the Pentagon through its power of the purse, but instead of reigning in the Pentagon’s bloated budget, it is actually encouraging it.
3. The NDAA is full of unnecessary spending designed to line the pockets of corporate defense contractors.
Despite the rhetoric of those who want to pass the NDAA, the primary beneficiary of the bill are not the troops, but the corporate defense contractors who stand to gain billions of dollars for every program that is inserted into the bill. Every year, military chiefs tell Congress to stop buying equipment it doesn’t need, yet every year Congress goes ahead and pays for these unnecessary programs anyway. Understandably, politicians make political calculations and defense contractors give a lot of money to political campaigns, so saying no to defense contracts could be tantamount to political suicide. But make no mistake: the reason to continue paying for unnecessary equipment is politics, not national security.
4. The NDAA increases corporate welfare in the form of defense contracts but cuts benefits that help service members and veterans.
What makes Republican rhetoric about the NDAA especially egregious is that the NDAA actually cuts funding for programs that troops and veterans use. While the NDAA increases funding for corporate defense contractors, cuts to basic housing allowances unfairly target dual-military couples and disproportionately affect female service members. In addition, changes to Tricare will result in increases in co-pays for prescription medication for enrollees. Given that the GOP is advocating for domestic programs to bear the brunt of budget cuts, the Department of Veterans Affairs will lose $1.4 billion next year, while cuts in nutrition assistance will result in 60,000 jobless veterans having no access to food stamps. Given these cuts, how can the GOP argue with a straight face that the NDAA is for the troops?
5. Fiscal irresponsibility has become acceptable in Congress, and the budget tricks employed in the NDAA is a testament to that.
In his response to the president’s veto threat, Senator Roy Blunt said that funding defense is our nation’s “moral imperative.” But how much of an imperative is it if Congress does not even have a plan to pay for it without resorting to accounting tricks and budget gimmicks? If the NDAA truly is a reflection of how much we value our nation’s security, then Congress should do the hard work of figuring out how to fund programs that will make us truly safe both overseas and at home, not put unnecessary and unwanted programs on a national credit card.