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.
-- Jon Healey