Poor prioritizing exacerbates financial issues

Freedom Newspapers

In yet another illustration of how pork, parochialism and congressional privilege routinely trump practicality, frugality and responsible priority-setting in Washington, the U.S. Senate voted recently to override a Pentagon plan to decommission an aircraft carrier and cancel a troubled cargo plane program.

Both proposals were made in an effort to defray the mounting costs of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and direct limited resources to higher priorities. They were rejected because retiring the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy and canceling the C-130J cargo plane could mean a loss of jobs and federal funds to certain states and congressional districts, as the Senate declared, like some demented second coming of Admiral Farrugut: Damn the deficit, full speed ahead! The actions “marked triumphs of local politics over the Pentagon’s budget plans,” according to one media report.

Compounding the irresponsibility, the language forcing the Pentagon retreat was inserted into an $81 billion “emergency supplemental” spending bill making its way through Congress. In keeping with custom, congressional opportunists have larded up the bill with so many non-germaine amendments and add-ons that the “emergency” it bespeaks is a fiscal emergency.

We’ve been following the U.S.S Kennedy saga for several months as a way of illustrating how Congress’ insatiable hunger for home-state pork makes it nearly impossible to curb deficit spending or establish a sensible set of federal spending priorities. Within hours of it becoming known that the Navy would like to decommission the aging ship, which is poised to undergo a quarter-of-a-billion dollar overhaul, a vigorous congressional counteroffensive began.

A reduction of the American carrier fleet from 12 to 11 ships would have saved an estimated $1.2 billion. But members of Congress from Florida, where the ship is based, joined with members of Congress from Virginia, who feared carriers based there might be moved to Florida if the Kennedy was decommissioned, to torpedo the plan.

Similarly, when Pentagon brass indicated they wanted to save an estimated $5 billion by canceling the procurement of more C-130J aircraft, members of Congress from states and districts where the planes or their parts are manufactured launched a rescue mission.

The Pentagon deserves credit for its willingness to bite the bullet on funding priorities and recognize the need to make trade-offs. But Congress demonstrated, once again, that it is less interested in the common defense than in defending home-state pork. The war against out-of-control federal spending can’t be won until Congress changes its ways.