Pet projects leave troops ill-prepared

Freedom New Mexico

This country would be much safer, with its core national interests better served, if the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan were ended immediately.

While U.S troops are in the field, however, it is difficult to express just how utterly unconscionable it is for Congress to divert money requested for fuel, ammunition and training to earmarks requested by individual members of Congress for pet projects designed to enhance their reputations or buy votes.

But that is just what has happened.

Pork-barrel spending is hardly new in Washington. But Winslow Wheeler, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center for Defense Information, which conducted a study on this year’s defense budget, said that “in 30 years on Capitol Hill, I never saw Congress mangle the defense budget as badly as this year.”

Congress cut the administration’s request for operations and maintenance, or O&M, by about $3 billion. Instead of spending for training, repairs, spare parts, supplies, weapons, ammunition and the like, it allocated $2.8 billion for 778 different projects designed to enhance individual legislators’ prestige, bring money to home districts or pay off campaign contributors.

Among the earmarks were $25 million for a World War II museum in New Orleans, $20 million to jump-start an “educational” institute to be named after the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, $20 million for a space surveillance system in Hawaii and $25 million for something called the Hawaii Federal Health Care Network.

Among the greediest porkers was Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who inserted 35 earmarks worth more than $206 million. He was outdone by Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who sponsored 48 earmarks worth $216 million.

It’s not as if raiding the O&M budget is without consequences. According to Wheeler, “Air Force and Navy combat pilots training to deploy are getting about half the flying hours they got at the end of the Vietnam War. Army tank crews get less in tank training today than they did during the low-readiness Clinton years.” The Navy has been forced to curtail at-sea training and flying because of a shortfall in O&M funds.

The House and Senate defense appropriations bills differ in some respects, so a conference committee will have to reconcile the two versions. That committee could remove the earmarks.

We’re not holding our breath.