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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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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.

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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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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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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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Vermont Pushes Back

When it comes to the overpriced and underperforming boondoggle known as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, local communities are taking action even as the Congressional-Military-Industrial Complex perpetuates the myth that the JSF is a job creator and an advanced fighter that will ensure American air superiority well into the 21st century.  The F-35 is neither, and we applaud the efforts of the citizens of Vermont in pushing back against this turkey.