Arms and the Super Committee

As the Congressional super committee moves towards its deadline for developing a deficit reduction plan, we need to make sure that its decisions reflect the national interest, not special interests.
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As the Congressional super committee moves towards its deadline for developing a deficit reduction plan, we need to make sure that its decisions reflect the national interest, not special interests. If there is to be a deal at all, it should include substantial reductions in military spending. That will mean standing up to the arms industry, which is doing everything in its power to keep the committee from including Pentagon spending cuts in its deficit reduction package. While recent press coverage has focused on the committee's wrangling over revenues and entitlements, the discussion should also focus on reductions in the Pentagon's spending plans.

Military contractors have billions at stake in the battle of the budget. In recent years military spending has reached its highest levels since World War II. Companies like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Raytheon have seen their contracts double or even triple during the 2000s. Lockheed Martin alone received nearly $30 billion in Pentagon contracts in 2010. The contractors would like nothing better than to keep consuming our tax dollars at this rate for the foreseeable future. But fairness dictates that these companies share the burden of deficit reduction.

Industry lobbying groups like the Aerospace Industries Association have argued that Pentagon spending has already been cut to the bone, and that therefore the super committee should not propose any further reductions. In fact, President Obama's proposed reductions in Pentagon spending plans have not kicked in yet. Once they do they will involve a modest and gradual scaling back of the Pentagon's proposed $6.1 trillion spending plan for the next decade. Absent a strong dose of fiscal discipline, that astonishing figure will doubtless include spending on rampant cost overruns, an overstuffed Pentagon bureaucracy, and exorbitant salaries among arms industry executives. Even more importantly, too much will be spent on Cold War weapons that have nothing to do with addressing the most urgent threats we face. In short, a significant portion of the Pentagon's wish list will have little to do with mounting an effective defense of the country.

In pushing for high military budgets, the arms lobby has impressive tools of influence at its disposal. The weapons industry made $22.6 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress in the most recent election cycle. It employs over 1,000 lobbyists, nearly two for every member of Congress. And as of 2010 the arms industry had 684 revolving door employees -- individuals who had power over military spending decisions while in government and have now gone to work for military contractors.

Members of the budget super committee have been a particular focus of the arms industry, receiving over $1.1 million in campaign donations from weapons manufacturers over the past two election cycles. These include both contributions to each member's campaign committee as well as to leadership PACs. A leadership PAC is a political action committee that allows a member of Congress to make contributions to the election campaigns of other members. This is a way of winning good will that can be tapped in support of specific initiatives or if the member runs for a leadership position.

The revolving door phenomenon is relevant to the super committee as well. There are 22 former staffers of super committee members now working as lobbyists for Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and other arms contractors. They have the inside track in getting access to super committee members during their deliberations on reducing the deficit.

As Bob Edgar of Common Cause has argued, "America spends more on defense than the combined totals of all our potential adversaries. There is plenty of room to make cuts that won't endanger our security if Congress and the executive branch will put aside their political interest in cultivating big contributions from defense contractors and act instead in the national interest."

Will the super committee target wasteful and unnecessary Pentagon spending, or will the arms lobby succeed in blocking sensible reductions? Part of the answer depends on what they hear from their constituents. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said 50 years ago in his military-industrial complex speech, the only effective counter to the power of the complex is 'an alert and knowledgeable citizenry." In the defense budget debates of these next few years, this proposition will be put to the test.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

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