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Why the NDAA Should be Vetoed

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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.

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2016 Candidates Need to Get Serious About National Security

Election 2016

According to a recent Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll of likely caucus goers in Iowa, national security is now at the front of voters’ minds. Unlike the previous two elections where the economy trumped defense as the issue that most concerned voters, recent events in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South China Sea are making voters nervous about national security and the ability of our government to keep us safe.

The slew of candidates running for president in 2016 have taken advantage of national security’s return to prominence to bolster their commitment to maintaining a strong military and a credible force that they say could keep us safe. However, the candidates eschew few specifics in favor of saber-rattling in a race to see who can capture more votes through fear-mongering. Responsibility goes out the window as candidate after candidate promises endless wars and a bigger Pentagon budget.

It is time for our candidates to become the adults in the room and stop reducing the complexity that is inherent in these issues. It is easy to argue for increased defense spending and bolstering the defense-industrial complex, but that is not a viable alternative to having a plan to effectively address the problems that truly threaten our security. More ships, submarines, planes or boots on the ground will not make us safe unless they are part of a strategy on how to make the world a safer place.

Our military’s current involvement in the Middle East in the fight against ISIS is an example of how pouring in more resources does not win a fight. While ISIS continues to tear through the Middle East, the President openly admits that we have no strategy to win against ISIS and Congress has effectively abandoned its constitutional responsibility to authorize wars by refusing to vote on Authorization of the Use of Military Force against ISIS.

In the mean time, we continue to pump more money and resources into our allies in the Middle East in the hopes that this would help them win the war against ISIS. Recently, the Pentagon announced that equipment worth more than $1.6 billion will be given to the Iraqi government to help fight ISIS and the White House is set to announce the deployment of 450 more troops to train Sunni fighters, in addition to the 3,000 personnel already deployed there to train and assist Iraqi personnel.

The likelihood of this equipment and support making a significant difference in the fight against ISIS remains to be seen, but there are already indications that providing hardware and trainers will not be enough. Currently, ISIS is using more than $1 billion worth of American humvees captured from the Iraqis to conduct raids against opposing forces. To makes matters worse, in Al-Asad, there are too many American trainers with no Iraqi recruits to train.

Unfortunately, the harsh truth about the ineffectiveness of confusing excessive defense spending with a credible war plan is not making 2016 presidential candidates tone down the saber-rattling. Senator Marco Rubio wants to increase defense spending without exactly explaining why. Not to be outdone, Senator Rand Paul proposes a $190 billion increase in defense spending over two years, paid for through crippling offsets in domestic spending. Finally, Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the GOP’s most reliable defense hawk on the Hill, doesn’t even bother with niceties as he promises more war if he is elected president.

With this kind of rhetoric, it is almost impossible to hope that the candidates for 2016 will treat their voters like adults any time soon. After 14 years of war, it is irresponsible to continue treating our nation’s security like a playground fight of who has the newest and shiniest toys. It’s time for our politicians to have a real conversation with their constituency about the difficult choices we have to make to keep our country safe.

 

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The Pentagon Proposes Its Largest Budget Request Ever

On Monday, the White House introduced its proposed budget for fiscal year 2016. Included in the request was the Pentagon’s proposed budget of $585 billion – $534 for the Pentagon’s base budget (the largest in history) and $51 billion for its war spending slush fund.

P moneyThe Pentagon’s request is $34 billion over the spending caps put into place by Congress. This doesn’t make good budgeting sense if you want to avoid the across the board spending cuts known as sequestration – which we are assuming the Pentagon wants to do. But hey, whatever floats their boat.

Of course, there are defense hawks in Congress who say that the Pentagon’s budget is still too low – and the way to raise it is to cut social programs like SNAP (food stamps) and Head Start. For most Democrats, however, that plan in a non-starter.

The billions wasted by the Pentagon include a bloated back office, a plane the doesn’t work and also happens to be the most expense weapon in history (am I sensing some kind of trend, here?), and a ship that cannot do the tasks it was designed to perform.

And let’s not forgot that slush fund, which contains tens of billions of dollars more than is needed to wind down the war in Afghanistan and pay for operations in Iraq and Syria.

All of this adds up to one whopper of a budget loaded with wasteful spending. To make matters worse, we don’t even know how exactly the Pentagon spends all of this money since it has never been able to pass an audit.

But there is something you can do. Two groups – Peace Action and Win Without War – have made it easy for us to send letters to the editor to our local papers using their language or inserting our own. Just click on the links below and follow the steps. It is fast and simple.

Peace Action Alert

Win Without War Alert

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Changing the Name of the Navy’s ‘Little Crappy Ship’ Won’t Fix It

Yesterday, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that the Navy would be changing the name of its much vilified Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to the ‘Fast Frigate.’ The LCS, often called the ‘Little Crappy Ship’ by its critics in the Navy, has been plagued with problems since its inception. Many see this name change as a not-so-subtle way for the Navy to fend off the ship’s detractors.

LCS2The Pentagon’s chief weapons tester has repeatedly said that the LCS is “not expected to be survivable” in combat. The ship suffers from serious design and technical flaws, and cost overruns, and even has problems performing the tasks it was designed to perform. The situation became so bad that last February outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered to the Navy to cut its LCS purchases from 52 to 32 ships.

At that same, time Hagel also ordered the Navy to come up with a new design for the remaining 20 ships, announcing the outcome in December. To some observers surprise, instead of developing a better, more suitable ship, the Navy simply decided to add a few more cannons and armor to the original LCS design. The Pentagon’s chief weapons tester quickly derided the decision, stating “the minor modifications to the LCS will not yield a ship that is significantly more survivable.”

Indeed, simply making a few modifications, and now changing its name, won’t make this little crappy ship any better. The LCS is a waste of tax dollars and places sailors at an unacceptable risk. It’s time for Congress to end the program once and for all.

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We’re Paying $1.5 Trillion for a Military Jet That Doesn’t Work

A recent article by James Fallows of The Atlantic delves into the disconnect between the military and the general public, which allows the United States to be drawn into wars we shouldn’t be fighting and spend “too much money” on the Pentagon and “spend it stupidly.”

F35 problemsThe example Mr. Fallows points to that exemplifies the stupidity of our military spending is the $1.5 trillion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – the most expensive weapon in history.

By most accounts the F-35 program has been a complete and abject failure. It was supposed to be the plane that could do everything, and yet can barely do anything. The F-35 “has trouble flying at night, its engines have exploded during takeoff, and early models suffered structural cracks.”

It is years behind schedule, suffers from serious design flaws, and its cost overruns alone have wasted 100 times what was spent on Solyndra. When (if?) the F-35 ever achieves “operational” status, its capabilities will be 10 years behind those of our current jets, and will be flying without the use of its guns.

Yet there seems to be no stopping the F-35 (this map shows why).

As the American Friends Service Committee points out, the cost of just one year of this program could fund the $8 billion cut from food assistance programs for low-income families.

With Republicans vowing to increase military spending (likely at the expense of vital social programs and those who rely on them), Americans need to become more involved in how Congress and the Pentagon spend (and waste) our tax dollars. Letting your representatives know how you feel about the F-35 is a great place to start.

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Congress Gives the Pentagon a Holiday Bonanza

Before rushing home to joyously celebrate the holidays with friends, family and campaign donors, Congress made sure that the apple of its eye– the Pentagon – was tucked in all warm and cozy, secure with the knowledge that it would be living large in the next fiscal year.

santa jetsLawmakers passed the $1.013 trillion “cromnibus” spending bill, giving the Pentagon $554 billion, while other departments such as Education (student loans, funding for schools in low-income areas), Housing and Urban Development (home loans, programs for the homeless), Agriculture (food safety inspection programs, food stamps), Transportation (road and bridge maintenance), Health and Human Services (vaccines, medical research, Head Start), and the others are forced to split the difference.

They also included a $64 billion slush fund for the Pentagon – which, ironically, would make the slush fund the fifth largest federal agency by budget. As we’ve mentioned before, the slush fund (also known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund), was set up by Congress to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following 9-11. But it is now being used by Congress and the Pentagon to pay for pet projects.

Some of the goodies lawmakers placed under the Pentagon’s tree include four more F-35 jet planes, the most expensive weapon (and waste of money) in history, than the military requested, as well as extra ships, jets, drones, and helicopters.

But being the favorite can also lead to becoming a spoiled brat, as is the case with the Pentagon. Even as the DoD watches other departments suffer from severe budget cuts, and the United States spends more on defense than the next 10 countries combined, Pentagon officials and their war hawk friends are still bellyaching that the department needs more money. Which is definitely not true.

Oh well – at least the Pentagon is making sure the skies will be safe for Santa.

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The Pentagon’s Budget Is Still Sky High – And It Has A Slush Fund

Over the weekend Congress passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill, affectionately referred to as the “cromnibus” by those inside the beltway because it is part continuing resolution and part omnibus spending bill.

pentagon_history 630The cromnibus gives the Pentagon $554 billion, which, according to a new article in Mother Jones magazine, is “close to what is got during the height of the Iraq war,” when the United States had tens of thousands of troops in the country. In fact, the author points out that even with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Pentagon spending remains at its highest levels since World War II.

Now, we’ve heard a lot about how “draconian” spending cuts are “hurting” the military. Of course, pundits are always saying that the Pentagon needs more money.

But low and behold, it appears that these cries are just a lot of hot air coming war hawks and Pentagon officials who want more expensive, shiny things that go boom.

And while programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), have suffered from drastic cuts, the Pentagon even has its own slush fund.

So what is the Pentagon’s slush fund? A new article in Politico Magazine tells you everything you need to about it – including why the slush fund is a dream come true for the Pentagon, and a nightmare for taxpayers.

The slush fund, also known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, was set up after 9-11 to “temporarily” fund “emergency” operations in Afghanistan (and later Iraq). The slush fund has now become a behemoth (its funding levels would equal that of the fifth largest government agency) that Congress and the Pentagon use to pay for their pet projects and pad the military’s budget.

In fact, a military budget expert estimated that the Pentagon’s original slush fund request contained more than $30 billion in programs that are unrelated to operations in Afghanistan. Now does this sound like a Pentagon that is hurting for funds?

So the next time you hear someone talking about how the Pentagon needs more money, take it with a grain so salt. And remember – domestic programs don’t have their own slush funds.

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The Pentagon Wastes Too Much Money – That Could Be Put To Better Use

Today Fareed Zakaria came out with an excellent opinion editorial in the Washington Post – Can Ashton Carter rein in a Pentagon out of control? The piece highlights many of the problems in the Pentagon, particularly the massive amounts of wasteful spending that takes place every year.

taxes_pentagon_waste_bumper_sticker-300x300With one Pentagon program alone, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the cost overruns are around $160 billion. That’s more than the total defense budgets of Britain and France – combined. Not to mention that the F-35 is so riddled with technical and structural problems that it is unlikely to ever perform as advertised.

And this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the Pentagon’s budget problems are so vast that it can’t even pass an audit.

As Zakaria points out, Republicans always seem concerned about wasteful government spending – except when it comes to the Pentagon. One wonders if the new Republican majority in Congress is going to finally demand some fiscal discipline from the largest government bureaucracy in the world. (yeah, right…)

Of course, the billions of dollars the Pentagon wastes every year could go towards things people actually need – like education, health care, heating assistance, food stamps, road and infrastructure improvements…the list goes on.

And even with the new Secretary of Defense coming in, not much is likely to change.

That is, unless we do something about it. We must step up and get the word out to our friends and family, and put pressure on our elected officials to make change happen. After all, in the words of Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.”

And you can start now by sharing this blog.

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Make the Pentagon Explain How It is Spending Our Money

Earlier this month, the White House asked Congress to give the Pentagon $5 billion more in war funds than it had originally requested, saying that it “needs” the money to fight ISIS. The Pentagon had already asked for $58.6 billion in war funds, on top of its $498 billion base budget.

pentagon-fraudThe funny thing is that the original war fund request was loaded with about $30 billion in excess “slush” funds, so one wonders why the Pentagon needs more money. Especially since it had just tried to buy a bunch of inoperable (but very expensive) planes it can’t use with war slush funds.

While some lawmakers are opposed to handing the Pentagon an extra $5 billion, most experts predict Congress will give it to them anyway – without ever asking how last year’s war funds were spent or trying to get an explanation of how they plan to use the original $58.6 billion request.

Too bad – because that is exactly what Congress needs to do.

Blindly giving the Pentagon billion of dollars without any clue about how it will be used can only lead to wasteful spending. Just look at the tens of billions of dollars the Pentagon blew in Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to waste here at home.

America has other priorities we need to fund – education, health care, infrastructure improvements – the list goes on. Every dollar the Pentagon wastes is a dollar that could be used to feed a hungry child or pay for much needed medical research.

It’s time for Congress to stop giving the Pentagon a “hall pass” on wasting our tax dollars and start taking its oversight authority seriously. Lawmakers can begin by making the Pentagon explain how it is using the war funds. And if the Pentagon can’t tell us how the money is spent, Congress needs to cut their funding.

Share this article if you agree.

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Former Reagan Defense Official: Don’t Buy the Defense Hawks’ Budget Bellyaching

In an great op-ed published today in US News and World Report, “Don’t Buy the Defense Hawks’ Budget Bellyaching,” Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration and currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, lays in to defense (war) hawks who say the Pentagon needs more money.

bellyacheKorb, whose job it was to administer about 70 percent of the defense budget, pointed out that the “terrified” hawks “bellyaching” about the budget leaves out a number of important facts, including:

The Pentagon’s almost half a trillion dollar base budget is still at historically high levels – more, in fact, in 2014 dollars than during the Reagan administration!

The Pentagon has a separate war budget (many call it a slush fund) – the administration recently upped its request and is now asking for $63.6 billion next fiscal year – even though most US troops will have left Afghanistan.

The United States accounts for almost 40% of all the world’s military expenditures. Add in the amount our allies are spending, and that number jumps significantly.

Korb also rightly points out that both the Pentagon and Congress waste billions of dollars every year on expensive projects like plane that doesn’t work and by simply throwing money away. He also points out that Congress refuses to let the Pentagon undertake sensible spending reforms that would save billions of dollars a year.

As Korb states: “[a]rguing that the defense department needs a bunch of additional cash while refusing to let it make these sensible cuts is having your cake and eating it, too.”

Read the entire op-ed here.