The US military has lots of M1 Abrams tanks — more than 2,300 deployed around the world, and 3,000 more in storage at a remote military base in California. But they have a problem — the M1 has a flat bottom that makes it vulnerable to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are so popular in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. So the Pentagon wants to redesign the tank and replace it with something new and improved.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon wants to stop their refurbishment program for the old tanks in 2013. With more tanks in storage than deployed, that makes lots of sense and would save around $3 billion.
Sounds good. So why isn’t anyone surprised that Congress won’t let them? Standing to benefit from continuing to refurbish old tanks is General Dynamics, who has given an estimated $5.3 million over the last decade or so to the campaigns of members of the key committees responsible for military spending.
To General Dynamics, that is just a good investment — millions of dollars (in what amounts to a bribe), in exchange for billions of dollars in contracts. That’s a 56074% ROI (return on investment) — not bad!
Of course, the congressmen in both houses and from both political parties that are earmarking money for the tanks say they are concerned about undermining America’s military capability, or that they want to save jobs in their districts. Supposedly, earmarks were banned after the 2010 election, but that law has a loophole — if multiple congress members favor adding an earmark it magically stops being an earmark. So companies like General Dynamics just have to bribe multiple congress members.
The US spends far more on its military than any other country. The number two country is China, and we spend five times more than them. In fact, we spend more than the next dozen countries combined. The US is responsible for 41% of all military spending in the world.
With US military spending now comprising about half of all discretionary federal spending, it would seem like trimming programs that the Pentagon neither needs nor wants (and which would not undermine our military capability), would be a good place to start. In fact, mounting deficits do more damage to our country than any enemy could do. And if Congress is actually concerned about jobs, we should be spending money on jobs that create infrastructure, to make our country stronger, not lining the pockets of defense contractors.
So far, deficit hawks have been curiously silent on the M1 Abrams funding issue. There has been some noise from the administration that the president might veto the appropriation bill if it contains too many unrequested projects like this. You should let Obama, as well as your Congressional representatives, know how you feel about corporate welfare masquerading as military spending.