Congressional earmarks diverted $2.6 billion from troop needs

People like to frame governing philosophies in a classic reductio ad absurdum choice between “guns or butter.”  In Washington DC, that has changed to guns or pork.  The Washington Times reports that Congress diverted $2.6 billion in defense funding away from war priorities such as ammunition and fuel in order to fund pet projects through the earmark process:

Senators diverted $2.6 billion in funds in a defense spending bill to pet projects largely at the expense of accounts that pay for fuel, ammunition and training for U.S. troops, including those fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an analysis.

Among the 778 such projects, known as earmarks, packed into the bill: $25 million for a new World War II museum at the University of New Orleans and $20 million to launch an educational institute named after the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

While earmarks are hardly new in Washington, “in 30 years on Capitol Hill, I never saw Congress mangle the defense budget as badly as this year,” said Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate staffer who worked on defense funding and oversight for both Republicans and Democrats. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information, an independent research organization.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, called the transfer of funds from Pentagon operations and maintenance “a disgrace.”

“The Senate is putting favorable headlines back home above our men and women fighting on the front lines,” he said in a statement.

Like most well-worn memes, the “guns or butter” does provide some usefulness in determining gut-level priorities.  However, the “butter” argument presumes that the Congress making those decisions eschews the need for guns in the first place.  Once hostilities have been initiated, Congress has a responsibility to either resource the troops properly or conclude hostilities.

As Coburn says, this is a disgrace.  The operations and maintenance accounts are not the piggy bank of porkers, who have access to a wide variety of other funding for their corrupt practices.  It funds necessary replacement procurement for our military, which is critical in time of war.

What projects do this Congress believe are more important than that?

  • $20 million for a Maui Space Surveillance System – Senator Daniel Inouye.  (Perhaps the Moon may counterattack soon!)
  • $25 million for the Hawaii Federal Health Care Network – Inouye again.  Hey, shouldn’t that come from Health and Human Services rather than Defense?
  • $20 million for Humvee maintenance – Sponsored by Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, this actually sounds like a war priority, until you find out that the Humvees in question are all in Maine.

There are 778 pork line items in the Defense appropriation.  Recall when Obama said he would insist on ending the practice of pork-barrel allocations during the presidential campaign?  He has a perfect opportunity to make good on that promise with a veto and a demand for a pork-free Defense appropriation.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for that Hope and Change, though.