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The Difference Between Pork and Raising and Supporting Armies

12:14 PM, Jul 30, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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The Washington Post's Jeffrey Smith reports:

House Seems To Be Set on Pork-Padded Defense Bill

The Democratic-controlled House is poised to give the Pentagon dozens of new ships, planes, helicopters and armored vehicles that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says the military does not need to fund next year, acting in many cases in response to defense industry pressures and campaign contributions under an approach he has decried as "business as usual" and vowed to help end.

The unwanted equipment in a military spending bill expected to come to a vote on the House floor Thursday or Friday has a price tag of at least $6.9 billion.

That's the lede, and then the close:

Regarding the disputed C-17 transport aircraft, for example, senior defense officials have formally testified that those purchased in previous years, in combination with upgraded C-5 aircraft, will be sufficient to meet any conceivable military needs. But the committee added $674 million for three unwanted planes because "the Air Force will say on the record that they don't support it, but if you ask them off the record if they will actually use the planes, they will say, 'Absolutely,' " said a House staff member who also was not allowed to speak on the record.

Political action committees affiliated with Boeing, the C-17's principal manufacturer, donated $161,500 to House defense appropriations subcommittee members since the beginning of 2007, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

It would be nice if, just occasionally, some larger historical perspective slipped into these hysterical accounts, such as on C-17, which Dick Cheney first tried to kill in 1992. Having those extra airlifters in places like Kosovo, Iraq and, particularly Afghanistan has been a life-saver and, of course, we're using C-17s much more than "planned," which means they're wearing out faster than "planned" and -- wait for it -- there's no replacement on the drawing board, let alone in design, test or production.

Every few years the Air Force does a "mobility requirements study" that, surprisingly, confirms whatever the budget of the times calls for but which, over the last decade or so, has seen the total airlift requirement mushroom.

In sum, nobody really believes that we have sufficient airlift. And so, for the past several years, the Pentagon has been in cahoots with the Congress: the DoD does not include C-17 buys in its budget on the presumption that the Congress will add them back, thank you very much, in its mark-up of the defense appropriations bill or in a supplemental. The only thing notable about this year's number is that it's substantially lower than the recent past, when we were buying 8 or more C-17s at more than $1 billion.

Further, to equate a John Murtha $8 million earmark to a home-district contractor and the purchase of desperately needed cargo planes -- as Smith does -- is the height of mendacity. Not all congressional modifications or add-ons are "pork," even if -- gasp! -- they have unfortunate consequences like creating or preserving manufacturing jobs. Or providing needed gear. Gates may be a popular defense secretary but that doesn't give him the authority to issue final diktats on defense spending. Thankfully, the Constitution vests that power in the Congress. In America, "business as usual" means "the rule of law."