Make Pentagon waste a campaign issue

What do Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani have in common?

They’re the leading presidential candidates of the two major parties. But they have more in common than that.

All choose not to offer specifics on waste that they’d cut from America’s largest federal department – the Pentagon.

All these candidates claim to abhor government waste, and agree that there’s waste in the Defense Department, which spends more than half of Congress’ discretionary budget. That’s hardly a bold stance. Defense analysts of various political stripes, including Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretary of defense, Lawrence J. Korb, agree that there are tens of billions of dollars worth of waste in the annual Pentagon budget.

But these leading candidates aren’t telling us how they’d cut the fat.

The best they offer is a promise of a top-to-bottom Pentagon budget review. That sounds nice, efficient and managerial, but you can bet it won’t do much for the American taxpayer. It is in no way an answer, a commitment, or even a statement of intent. Past reviews have repeatedly failed to eliminate weapons that are so obviously unnecessary that it’s an embarrassment to our great country that they’re still being funded.

I’m talking about fighter jets and submarines designed to fight the former Soviet Union, 10,000 nuclear warheads, none of which deter the terrorists we so fear, and more.

A recent Time magazine cover story described the V-22 Osprey, an aircraft so poorly designed that even Dick Chaney – the fox we put in the henhouse – tried repeatedly to cancel it. The airplane-helicopter hybrid killed 30 American soldiers in tests, so they cut back on the tests. The Osprey is still in the Pentagon budget, at $119 million per plane, and still doesn’t work.

If the top-polling candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike, can’t promise to eliminate the most egregious waste from the $500 billion Pentagon budget (that figure doesn’t include another $200 billion this year for our wars in the Middle East), you can be confident that billions will continue to be wasted on obsolete Cold War weapons when one of them is elected.

The reason is summed up in three words: military-industrial complex. This powerful confluence of congressional special interests, defense-contractor lobbyists and the defense establishment has railroaded budget reforms again and again.

But if America is going to have universal health care, triple the number of guards along the Mexican border, or fulfill any of the other promises the candidates are making – without a big tax hike – we’re going to need those dollars.

Our next president would be well advised to spell out both the magnitude of Pentagon waste and the benefits of addressing it, to build the public support and political momentum he or she will need to blunt the inevitable attacks from defense contractors.

We the people, the people whose dollars fund these projects, have a role to play. All of us, regardless of our political leanings, can press each of the presidential candidates for an explanation of how they’d cut waste from the Pentagon budget, how much they’d save, and what their spending priorities would be.

Heck, if “cutting” is too tough to accomplish, they might use a different term and “reallocate,” say, 10 percent ($50 billion) to our “at home” needs: education, health care, poverty, oil dependence.

Listen for specifics from each candidate before you vote in early January.

Alex Ray of Holderness, founder and owner of The Common Man Family of Restaurants, is a member of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities and PrioritiesNH.

Categories: Opinion