Bush, Congress share fiscal irresponsibility

The Bush administration and Pentagon have taken a lot of heat, some of it probably deserved, for an alleged shortage of armored Humvees in Iraq. The issue came to a boil several weeks back, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was confronted by a G.I. on the issue during a widely seen press conference in Kuwait. It’s been used by critics of the administration or the war to go on the offensive.

But much of the responsibility for the problem may actually lie with pork-barrel practitioners in Congress, who’ve thus-far proven to be Teflon-coated in the armor flap.

“Defense analysts say members of Congress might have inadvertently robbed the Army and Marines of resources to build up their stock of up-armored Humvees and other equipment needed to fight an increasingly violent Iraqi insurgency,” according to a report posted last week on Govexec.com, an excellent source of information about the federal government’s inner-workings.

“The fiscal 2005 Defense appropriations bill contains funding cuts for the Army and other programs that defense analysts say were made to cover the cost of nearly $9 billion in congressional pork projects added to the bill.”

While Congress was larding on the pork, “Defense appropriators trimmed $300 million from the Pentagon’s procurement accounts, including those that fund armor for Humvees and other vehicles in Iraq, and another $411 million was taken from the Defense Department’s operations and maintenance and research and development accounts,” according to the report.

The article quotes Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate Budget Committee staff member: “We know from the proportionate, across-the-board cuts (required to cover congressional pork spending) that body armor and armor kits for Humvees and trucks were affected.” Wheeler has blown the whistle on wasteful defense spending in a new book, “The Wastrels of Defense,” based on his experiences on Capitol Hill.

We would take issue with only one element of this report — use of the word “inadvertently” in the story’s lead. This makes Congress’ diversion of defense funds from higher priorities to personal pet projects seem innocent or unconscious. But it is neither.

Members of Congress understand that the funds they earmark for pork must come from somewhere, leaving less funding available for things the military professionals deem a higher priority. They know exactly what they’re doing, but evidently prefer to live in a state of denial about the implications of their self-serving actions for soldiers on the ground.

And if taxpayers had the means to track the billions of dollars plundered in this manner, not just in fiscal 2005 but dating back decades, they’d likely find that armorless Humvees are just one of many ways troops in the field have been shortchanged due to the lack of fiscal discipline on Capitol Hill.

President Bush shares the blame — and the shame — not only because he serves as commander in chief, but because he has refused to use the veto pen even once during his presidency to punish Congress for its fiscally irresponsible ways.