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Government: More deficit defenders

The very first amendment offered to HR 1, a continuing resolution to fund government operations from March 5 through Sept. 30, was an itty-bitty cut to the ginormous sum ($516 billion, plus $158 billion for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq) proposed for the Defense Department. Its fate is yet another illustration of how hard it will be for Congress to close the federal government's yawning budget gap.

The proposal by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) would have trimmed a mere $18.75 million from the DOD budget by cutting the funding for advisory boards by about 25%. Flake said he was merely echoing a recommendation made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. But his proposal was quickly opposed by the top Republican and Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, who said the proposal hadn't been vetted by their panel and could end up costing taxpayers more than it saves.

Ahem. It's mind-boggling to think that defense advisory panels are sacrosanct when aid to low-income families and their preschool children is not. The resolution would slash the latter by $2 billion, representing some of the largest single cuts contemplated by the bill, which calls for $100 billion less in spending this fiscal year than President Obama requested. 

Nevertheless, Flake's proposal didn't win over a majority of his colleagues -- it lost  207 to 223, with 148 Republicans and 75 Democrats insisting on full funding for the DOD's many boards and commissions. Having slapped down the smallest imaginable cut, members went on to defeat two more significant cuts as well as an amendment chopping $415 million from the troubled  and overly expensive V-22 Osprey  program but leaving the funds with the DOD.

The votes (and the debate leading up to them) are a testament to how well defense contractors are positioned to fend off cuts, thanks to the web of subcontractors they've developed in congressional districts across the country. So does the resolution itself. HR 1 would shave the DOD budget by only 2.8% from Obama's request, which translates into an $8-billion increase in funding over fiscal 2010. The much smaller budgets for other federal departments (with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security) would all face double-digit reductions from fiscal 2010 and from Obama's proposal.

Unless lawmakers start training their sights on the big dollars in defense and entitlements, they have no chance of solving the federal government's budget problems. None.

I can't wait to see how they vote on the proposal by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fl.) to cancel the multibillion-dollar program to develop a back-up engine  for the Joint Strike Fighter -- a program the Pentagon wants to cancel but that Congress insists on continuing in the name of "competition." Among its strongest backers is House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Never mind that the Pentagon chose the original contractor through competitive bidding.

Related:

The deficit's defenders

The vacuous first round in the fight over budget cuts

The CBO lays out the harsh reality

-- Jon Healey

 

 

 

Comments () | Archives (5)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Paul Espinoza

I'm going to be asking this over and over again:

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE $700 BILLION T.SEC PAULSON GAVE TO THE FINANCE INDUSTRY WITH NO QUESTIONS ASKED?

George2

We are doomed if government can't cut the defense budget--we will pay high taxes and interest for decades. There is no money; we are broke. Our government has failed us.

Jon Healey

@Paul -- Before you ask the question yet again, how about listening to the answer? You've been offered a few good ones already. Let me try again: the latest CBO report estimates that all but $25 billion of the original $700 billion will be repaid by the borrowers, and President Obama has proposed a tax on large financial institutions to recover the rest.

There's a wealth of information in the quarterly reports from the TARP inspector general. The latest is here: http://www.sigtarp.gov/reports/congress/2011/January2011_Quarterly_Report_to_Congress.pdf

Reader H Rose also suggested that you consult this site to see the actual disbursements and returns: http://bailout.propublica.org/main/summary. I'm not sure how up to date that reporting is, but what's there is good info.

affableman

The Pentagon is really the place to cut and cut deep. Having done contract work for the government it's been obvious to me the the DOD is full of waste, graft and corruption. It does a disservice to our troops and the taxpayers.

We can't afford to spend more on our military (not counting either war) than the rest of the world combined spends on defense.

Just like the bubble and Bush's tax policies, it's not sustainable.

Keith

Don't worry America. Congress has a secret plan to handle the $14T debt. It is called default on the debt and settle it for ten cents on the dollar. (10%)


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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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