Trump’s NDAA Veto Threat Should Force a Conversation on Defense SpendingTags Corporate WelfareCronyism and Corporatism
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A dirty secret of congressional military spending is that when the government allocates billions in spending, unnecessary, wasteful, and parochial interests quickly find their way into the legislation. That’s part of the reason President Trump has drawn the ire of a handful of defense leaders on Capitol Hill for threatening to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Simply put, they don’t want key special interest provisions for their donors and districts held up.
President Trump says that the bill won’t receive his signature unless Congress includes provisions that repeal section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides social media companies immunity from user-posted content. Some believe the president’s move is strategic, while others find it to be political posturing. Irrespective of one’s personal views on Section 230, let’s make one thing clear: the sky is not going to fall from a slight delay in passing the NDAA, as some have suggested.
America’s armed forces still have plenty of funds to conduct their military operations for the foreseeable future, to the extent that some policy analysts argue Washington should make defense spending cuts to free up funding for more pressing needs.
With a delay in authorization looking more likely, now seems like a perfect opportunity for Congress to take a long, hard look at the military waste that it has ignored for far too long.
The release of the 2020 Department of Defense Performance and Accountability Report highlighted nearly $5 billion in improper payments to its civilian workforce in the past year alone. This number may sound astonishing, and it is. That said, it’s just the tip of the fiscal mismanagement iceberg that plagues the same Pentagon which pays ten dollars a gallon for gas during historic declines in oil prices.
Earlier this year, the air force awarded hundreds of millions of dollars for the second phase of a program known as the Launch Service Agreement (LSA). Although it created the initiative to lower the cost of putting military hardware in space, it recently paid SpaceX $147 million more than its competitor’s launch pricing equivalent. Last month, SpaceX’s chief operating officer explained that some of these cost increases came from the company not winning a past government award during the competitive bidding process. In other words, taxpayers received next to nothing for the significantly higher price tag—corporate welfare and crony capitalism at their finest.
No lawmaker would deem these examples of waste acceptable from any other federal agency. The new NDAA that Congress insists must be passed right now is full of ones just like it.
For example, the Senate is pushing to fund the navy well above the branch's request for fleet expansion, allocating $1 billion more for shipbuilding than the navy wanted. Apparently, Congress knows the military’s needs better than the military does itself. Either that or Congress is more attuned and open to the defense industry’s lobbying campaigns.
Additionally, within the NDAA is language surrounding “resiliency,” which is just legislative jargon for preventing waste reduction.
For example, the U.S has over 70,000 personnel permanently stationed across Europe, despite next to no risk of military conflicts. These bases continue to get more expensive to operate, with a 2019 Congressional Budget Office report noting that per-person spending had increased as much as $14,000 per person in recent years. Yet, any talk of cost reduction faces immediate roadblocks from insiders, ensuring that waste-protecting language ends up in the bill.
This year's NDAA features “resiliency” protection for bases that are very much not under threat just to protect contractor spending.
That members of Congress will debate the merits of covid relief spending for individuals here at home but fight to keep wasting hundreds of millions of dollars for nonessential military projects is an absolute disgrace.
Rather than complain about a potential veto, here’s an idea for Congress: use this time to cut out wasteful pork and make the bill stronger. The country’s national security would be much better off because of it.