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Groups Urge Congress on Wasteful Pentagon Spending

Today, twenty-four groups from the left, right and middle send a letter recommending specific actions Congress can take to reduce wasteful spending at the Pentagon.

p wasteThe letter was sent to the House and Senate Armed Services Committee members, who will be considering the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) after the elections. The NDAA is the bill that specifies what the Pentagon can, and can’t, spend money on.

The Pentagon and some members of Congress are complaining (yet again) that the military doesn’t have enough money. But we know that isn’t true.

Every year the Pentagon wastes tens of billions of our tax dollars – and most “fiscally conservative” Republicans don’t even blink an eye. If you want to spend a trillion and a half dollars on a plane that doesn’t work – sign them up!

Of course, these are the same Republicans who want to cut funding for SNAP (food stamps), the National Institutes of Health, Social Security, road and bridge upkeep, and all the other things that keep us safe and alive every day in order reduce the deficit.

Specifically, the groups urge lawmakers to:

  • Stop overfunding the Pentagon’s “emergency” war spending slush fund
  • Not buy any more F-35’s than has already been authorized (you know, the planes that don’t work)
  • Only buy two of the (very sinkable) Littoral Combat Ships
  • Not increase funding to modify a tank the Pentagon doesn’t want.

The war funding slush fund (also called the Overseas Contingency Operations account), has been used by Congress and the Pentagon to avoid spending reductions and pay for their pet projects. Last month the Pentagon even tried to use the slush fund to buy more of those planes that don’t work!

Experts have wanted to see the other programs cancelled for years.

Clearly, the Pentagon doesn’t need any more money – those who say otherwise are simply playing politics. However, these recommendations will go a long way towards saving taxpayer dollars and keeping the Pentagon’s budget in check.

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What this new war will cost us (not just lives and money)

So America is fighting a new war. Bombs are being dropped, “boots” (i.e. soldiers) are on the ground, and a coalition has been formed to fight the enemy(ies). All of this has been set in motion without any vote or debate about whether or not this is something the American people want to do, how far we are willing to go for this cause, and what we are willing to sacrifice in both lives and money.

Pentagon MoneyWithout question American lives are going to be lost in this fight. How many depend on how deeply we ultimately get involved. Fortunately, very few people want to see a replay of the last war in Iraq, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Another issue is the cost. The Pentagon says that we are spending between $7 and 10 million a day on the war – a figure that is likely to increase. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimates the costs could range from $2.4 billion to over $22 billion per year, depending on the number of troops we put on the ground. Other all-inclusive estimates put the costs significantly higher.

Largest Military Budget in the World

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are citing this new war as a reason to increase the Pentagon’s already bloated budget.

The United States has by far the largest military budget in the world. Those who say that the Pentagon’s budget has been slashed are being disingenuous at best. We spend more on the military then the next nine countries combined – most of those countries are our allies. The Pentagon’s proposed budget is more than $550 billion for 2015, which keeps the budget at one of the highest levels since WWII.

With Republicans unlikely to raise taxes, the only source of income to pay for the increase cuts to other areas of the budget. That is, cuts to things like education, Veterans’ benefits, infrastructure improvements, cancer research, food and water safety monitoring – you know, the stuff we depend on ever day.

Republicans have already significantly slashed these budgets – as reflected in the steep cuts to SNAP (food stamps), the National Institutes of Health, and even the Secret Service. Now they are hoping to use the war to enact further cuts.

The Pentagon’s Budget is Loaded with Waste

Every year billions of dollars are wasted at the Pentagon. And this new fighting ensures it will only get worse. The Pentagon finances are in such disarray that it can’t even pass and audit – something it has been required (and failed) to do for more than 20 years.

In addition to its base budget, the Pentagon has a separate war budget (called the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO). The war budget was set up to pay for the wars is Iraq and Afghanistan, but in recent years has been used to pay for things not connected to the wars. Last year, Congress added tens of billions more to the war budget than was needed. Now it appears they want to do the same thing again.

Many people consider the OCO war budget to be a slush fund used by Congress and the Pentagon to pay for their pet projects. In fact, the Pentagon has so much money in its war budget slush fund it wants to buy more disastrous F-35 jet planes with it, the most expensive weapon in the world. Never mind that the plane is not yet combat-ready – and won’t be for years.

More Money for the Pentagon Means Less Money for Needs at Home

The fact is the Pentagon doesn’t need any more money. Policymakers who are using the situation in Iraq and Syria to argue for increasing Pentagon spending are playing politics. If they were truly concerned about a lack of funds they would focus on eliminating wasteful Pentagon spending.

So when these Republicans and others talk about giving more money to the Pentagon, what that really means is we’ll have even less money for programs and priorities that are desperately needed at home.

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Victory! House Panel Denies Outrageous Pentagon Request

In a surprise move, a House Defense Appropriations subcommittee denied a request by the Pentagon to use funds from the “emergency” war budget (also known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO) to buy eight F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

DENIEDThe war budget was set up by Congress to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now being used to pay for the air strikes against ISIS. Critics (including this blog) have long charged that Congress and the Pentagon have used the budget as a slush fund to pay for things not related to the wars.

This latest request by the Pentagon did not disappoint, and watchdog groups, including Taxpayers for Common Sense, called out the Pentagon for having the “chutzpah” to even try it. And Nukes of Hazard believes the Pentagon might be able to find “something” else to spend all of that war budget money on.

It should be noted that the F-35 is not yet combat ready and would not be able to take part in any war-related operations, anywhere, for years.

In his letter to the Pentagon denying the request, Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) stated:

“The Committee is concerned that OCO appropriations, which are provided by Congress specifically for ongoing combat operations and related efforts, are being utilized in this reprogramming to backfill budgetary shortfalls in acquisition program that have only tenuous links to the fight in Afghanistan and other current operations.”

Score one for us!

In other F-35 news, the Government Accountability Office released a report stating – surprise, surprise – that the long-terms operating costs of the program may not be affordable.

Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates that the total cost for “[d]eveloping, buying, basing, and maintaining the F-35 is currently estimated to cost close to one and a half trillion dollars.”

By all accounts the F-35 is the most expensive weapon in history. The program is 10 years behind schedule, 70 percent over budget, suffers from serious technical and structural problems, and has repeatedly failed to meet basic performance goals. Officials are still trying to figure out what caused an engine fire that grounded the planes for much of the summer.

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Some Quick Facts About the Pentagon’s Slush Fund

Many people are not aware that the Pentagon has a slush fund it, and Congress, uses to pay for pet projects and avoid spending caps. This slush fund (also called Overseas Contingency Operations account) was created to pay for the war in Afghanistan – a war that is coming to an end in December.

OCO v Other AgenciesFor the 2015 fiscal year the White House has asked for $58.6 billion in “emergency’ war spending – even though Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work testified it would only cost $11 billion to carry out U.S. troops’ post-2014 missions in Afghanistan. That leaves a lot of slush left over.

With Congress likely to pass this massive slush fund, we decided to find other ways the money could be spent. It turns out the $58.6 billion OCO request could:

  • Pay the salaries of over half the nation’s elementary teachers
  • Provide 7.5 million veterans with health care for a year
  • Fund the Unemployment Insurance bill for 3 million Americans six times over
  • Pay the salaries of over 800,000 sheriffs or police patrol officers
  • Provide over 26 million low-income children with healthcare

In fact, the “emergency” slush fund budget is so large that it equals the fifth largest US federal agency – larger than the Departments of State, Energy, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Justice, Transportation, and Labor (including many of those combined).

Not only that, it would also be the fifth largest defense budget in the world – more than even Great Britain spent on defense last year.

Now remember, this is supposed to be an “emergency” fund set up to pay for the war in Afghanistan – which is coming to an end. In fact, the US will have fewer than 10,000 troops there in 2015. Fortunately, a several Members of Congress have had enough and are demanding that the slush fund be shut down. And you can, too!

Please contact you Members of Congress and tell them to eliminate the Pentagon’s slush fund!

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Some in Congress Have Had Enough of the Pentagon’s Slush Fund

For a couple of years now the White House and Congress have been using an “emergency” war budget for Afghanistan (also called Overseas Contingency Operations) as slush fund to circumvent spending caps. The year’s emergency request is almost $60 billion, even though Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work testified last week it would only cost $11 billion to carry out U.S. troops’ post-2014 missions in Afghanistan. That leaves about $42 billion in slush for the Pentagon to play with.

slushTo put this in perspective the $60 billion emergency war spending request, if agreed to by Congress, would be the fifth largest defense budget in the world – more than both France and Great Britain spent on defense last year.  With the war winding down in Afghanistan and most of our troops coming home, there is no longer a need for such an excessive war budget.

To make matters worse, this is happening while everything from road and bridge rehabilitation projects, to programs that help working families get back on their feet, to the National Institutes of Health (the NIH!!!) are taking massive cuts. Now really – what’s more important to you? Finding a cure for cancer or lining defense contractors’ pockets – because that is where most of this slush is going.

Fortunately, a few Members of Congress have caught on to the scam. Below, for your reading pleasure, are a few of our favorite slush fund quotes.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) “…some of us have been calling this OCO account [a] slush fund for many years, and I’m glad to hear it being repeated a little bit at this point.House Committee on the Budget hearing, July 17, 2014

Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC): “I don’t know why you need this money, it’s just a slush fund anyway.” HASC OCO hearing, July 16, 2014

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) “It seems like this has become just another slush fund where you can just transfer money between accounts.” HASC OCO hearing, July 16, 2014

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) “I’ve been trying for a couple years now to draw attention to — and stop — the habit in Congress of using the War Budget (also called Overseas Contingency Operations) as a slush fund to hide extra spending and pet projects.” Facebook, May 22, 2014

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) “This bill continues the overseas contingency operations slush fund, and it is a slush fund at a time when the administration still hasn’t decided on how much the Afghanistan war is going to cost or how many troops will be there.”  House consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2015, May 21, 2014

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) “In addition, the OCO has become a slush fund for Congress and the Pentagon to stick in goodies for procurement and operations and maintenance that it couldn’t find room for in the Pentagon’s half-trillion dollar base budget.” House considering of HR 4138, March 12, 2014

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) “However, I am disappointed that the bill continues to fund Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) at a level above the Pentagon’s request. My colleague Representative Mick Mulvaney and I worked on a bipartisan basis to remove this excess funding during consideration of the defense budget in the House and in the final FY14 Defense Authorization bill. At a time when we are stretching every dollar to meet our nation’s needs, we should not create a slush fund for unrequested defense spending.” Van Hollen Statement on FY14 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, January 15, 2014

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Calling out the Pentagon’s “Slush Fund”

Earlier this week, the popular military media outlet, Defense News, editorialized about the continued abuse of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. Calling OCO a “giant slush fund,” Defense News urged Congress, the Pentagon and the defense industry to “figure out how to live without it.”

slush puppie

OCO was set up by Congress to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, it has been used in recent years by the Congress and the Pentagon as a budget gimmick to fund things not related to the wars and avoid spending caps.

Last month, the Obama administration announced that it would keep just 9800 troops in Afghanistan in 2015, at a cost of about $20 billion. However, the Pentagon is expected to ask for tens of billions of dollars above that in its OCO request. The House of Representatives is expected to approve that request later this month when it votes on the 2015 defense appropriations bill. 

Fortunately, with the help of a transpartisan coalition of groups, some Members of Congress have caught on that OCO is nothing more than a slush fund and are doing something about it. Several weeks ago, Reps. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and Patrick Murphy, D-Fla, scored a victory by getting an amendment added to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 (NDAA) that would limit what can be included in the OCO budget.

If the amendment ultimately becomes law, the Pentagon won’t be able to move things like the doomed F-35 to the OCO budget and the slush fund will quickly melt away.  

But now we must wait to see what happens with the final defense appropriations bill (not to be confused with the NDAA). The House Appropriations Committee’s Defense subcommittee has inserted a $79.4 billion “placeholder” for OCO while it waits for the Pentagon’s request. With all of the attention the groups have brought to the slush fund, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Pentagon was forced to request an amount below the $79.4 billion placeholder. And folks, those billions of dollars we saved will truly be cause for a celebration.

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Republican War Hawks Not Even Trying to Pretend It’s Not About The Money

Republican war hawks on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) seem like they are not even trying anymore to pretend that they are working for the good of the country and our men and women in uniform. Nope, they are clearly letting us know it’s all about the Benjamins.  

Pentagon MoneyLast week, HASC passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill so loaded with pork you can practically hear the ‘oinks’ as you read it. The NDAA is the bill that specifies what the Pentagon can, and can’t, spend money on.

This year’s NDAA contains all kinds of goodies that the Pentagon says it doesn’t want, but defense contractors love, like money for tanks the Army already has too many of and an aircraft carrier the Navy would like to retire. Unfortunately, Republicans aren’t along in their pursuit of defense lobbyist dollars. The bill also contains a provision from Rep. Daniel Maffei of New York that touts a specific type of ladder (wtf?) that cost $1000 apiece and is made in his district.  

To make matters worse, the bill prevents the Pentagon from undertaking cost-saving measures like benefits reforms and closing excess infrastructure – both of which the Pentagon says are desperately needed.

Of course, to pay for the all of the pork the bill takes away money from troop readiness and service accounts. Oh yeah, and even though HASC is blocking all of the Pentagon’s cost-saving measures, they say it needs more money – which Republicans would take from food stamps and other programs many military families rely on.

Support the troops, eh Buck.

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A Special Time of Year for Congress and the Pentagon

Every year about this time, the hearts of certain Members of Congress go all aflutter with the knowledge that it’s their turn to bask in the glow of the media spotlight and feast upon the defense lobbyist dollars thrown their way.

NDAAFists will pound, faces will glow red with rage, and spittle will splatter as the voices of angry lawmakers reverberate through the halls of our nation’s Capital, crying out for the need to increase the Pentagon’s already bloated budget.

Yes my friends, it’s time once again for the House of Representatives to debate the National Defense Authorization Act.  

Led for the last time by House Armed Services Committee Chairperson Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (oh, how we’ll miss your smile), both Republicans and Democrats will irrationally advocate for more Pentagon spending.

We’ll hear calls that [insert latest perceived threat] will be able to destroy us all if we don’t build more [insert lawmaker’s overpriced and underperforming pet project]. Schoolchildren and the elderly be damned!  

There will be guest commentaries from all sorts of big wigs about how even though we will no longer be at war that the Pentagon will still need war funding for years to come. And of course, who can forget the F-35?

Oh, what a joyous season it is.

But wait! What’s that you say? Could it be that we don’t really have to throw almost unlimited amounts of money at the Pentagon? Is it possible that the Pentagon already receives way more than it needs? But how else could we use that money?

Maybe, if enough people speak out, we just might be able to rein in some of the Pentagon’s wasteful spending. And we could move that money to where it’s needed most.

Now that, my friends, would be a special occasion! 

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So, Where Are My Taxes Going? Oh, Right, The Pentagon.

With all of the hubbub about the blood moon and the end of the world and all that happening on tax day (I knew it!), I’m guessing not a lot of us took the time to examine how our tax dollars are spent. But really, at this point it should come as a surprise to no one, well, almost no one, that the Pentagon takes the biggest slice.

bloodmoon1According to the National Priorities Project, 27 cents of every tax dollar goes to the Pentagon (by comparison, only two cents of every dollar is spent on education). To put this in better perspective, last year 57% of all discretionary funds – those voted on by Congress – went to the Pentagon.

Of course, some Republicans say that the historically high sums of money the United States is spending on the Pentagon isn’t enough. They say we need to spend even more – at the expense of everything else in the budget, of course.

The problem is that by all accounts this has no basis in reality, whatsoever.

On Monday the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released its latest report on military spending worldwide. It found that the United States is spending more than three times what China is spending on its military and more than seven times what Russia is spending. Hardly a reason to start cutting food stamps and Medicare. And if you put all of the United States’ perceived “threat nations’” (Russia, China, Iran, Syria and North Korea) military expenditures together, we still outspend them more than two to one.

So what gives?

Well, if you ask me, it seems like the Republicans realize they have to be for something. I mean, they’re already against fair taxes on the superrich, marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, puppies, immigration reform, and pretty much anything that helps at-risk kids, the elderly, and working families.

Other think it might have to do with defense contractors shoveling millions of dollars into their pockets.

Either way, the Republicans are going to keep pushing for a bigger Pentagon budget unless we do something about it.  

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60 Minutes Fails Again

This Sunday, the CBS “news” program 60 Minutes ran a segment on the Pentagon’s dismal F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons program in history. Keeping true to its reputation, 60 Minutes saved the segment from becoming a journalistic, fact-based news story and turned it into a 14 minute infomercial for the plane and its primary developer, Lockheed Martin.

The reporter, David Martin, barely addressed the numerous concerns raised about the plane, and then failed to even mention the F-35’s most serious problems.  But hey, its only supposed to be the foundation of the United States (and our allies) air defenses for the next 50 years, so who can blame him for failing to report on a few of the plane’s critical flaws  - even if they come from the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester.

Fortunately, a new video is shedding some much-needed light on the F-35.  The Jet that Ate the Pentagon was produced by Brave New Films and delves into program’s many, many problems. It’s a highly recommended alternative to the 60 Minutes puff piece.

Check it out for yourself:

 

For more information about the F-35 and what you can do, go to f35baddeal.com. It’s a new information hub for all things F-35.