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Hullabaloo


Saturday, February 10, 2018

 

Of wheat and chaff

by Tom Sullivan

A frenzy takes over the halls of the Pentagon as the end of the budget year looms. No office wants to end the year with money left in its budget. To not use it this year is to lose it in next year's budget. This leaves planners wandering the hallways desperate for something, anything, to throw billions at as the clock runs out.

The budget bill the sitting president signed Friday will ensure more of the same. The Associated Press reports that at $700 billion it is "the biggest budget the Pentagon has ever seen," a 15.5 percent increase and well beyond what the president requested. Next year's budget rises to $716 billion.

To use up budget, the military might resort to "hovering aircrafts at the end of runways just to burn off fuel and soldiers sent to the shooting range sometimes for an entire day just to expend ammunition." If the Pentagon blows billions in tax dollars on the military equivalent of lobster, Fox News is okay with that. It's only a civilian SNAP recipient spending a few bucks on it that ignites a right-wing hissy fit.

Publicly traded defense contractors are exempt, naturally. The millions of civilians employed by the industry owe their homes, cars, pensions, and kids' educations to those jobs government never created. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of civilians the Department of Defense hires directly.


Graph from War on the Rocks, Texas National Security Network, University of Texas.

AP reports:

The extra money is not targeted at countering a new enemy or a singular threat like al-Qaida extremists or the former Soviet Union. Instead the infusion is being sold as a fix for a broader set of problems, including a deficit of training, a need for more hi-tech missile defenses, and the start of a complete recapitalization of the nuclear weapons arsenal.

Every secretary of defense since 2011, when the Congress passed a law setting firm limits on military and domestic spending, has complained that spending caps set by the Budget Control Act were squeezing the military so hard that the number of ready-to-fight combat units was dwindling. Aging equipment was stacking up, troops were not getting enough training and the uncertain budget outlook was clouding America’s future.
Chris Hayes mentioned the Budget Control Act on MSNBC's All In Thursday night.
The biggest winners in the military buildup are the country’s largest defense contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics, that spend millions of dollars each year lobbying Congress.

The legislation that Trump signed Friday is expected to translate to billions more for one of the Pentagon’s highest priorities: missile defense. The appropriations committees still need to finalize exactly what will be in the 2018 defense budget. But they’re likely to follow closely the defense policy bill approved by Congress late last year. That included $12.3 billion for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency and ordered a more rapid buildup of the nation’s missile defenses as North Korea has refused to back away from developing nuclear missiles capable of striking the United States.
Now the defense industry just has to invent new weapons to spend it on.

But given how much of that frenzied week 52 spending goes to building construction and maintenance, one imagines the name TRUMP in gold springing up on buildings at U.S. facilities worldwide, renamed Trumpville, Casa del Trump, Marina del Trump, and so forth. Why spend millions on lobbying when sending snapshots to the Oval Office will do?

As Hayes pointed out on Thursday, the central debate over tax spending in America is not the size of it or the size of the debt or deficits, but over into whose pockets tax dollars flow. It is over why government exists and whom it serves. Over citizens lawmakers think of as wheat and those they treat as chaff.

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