While Washington remains transfixed on "deficit reduction," the dearth of actual spending reform has caused inspection of the lawmakers who are charged with the task at hand. Appointees of the Joint Committee created by the debt limit deal were quick to start fundraising on their newfound notoriety; prompting vows from other members that they would eschew fundraising efforts until the Committee has completed its work.
This has not stopped other lawmakers from continuing to accept cash from companies with an interest in continued government spending, particularly in the defense budget. In the defense funding fight this year the threat of across-the-board cuts to Pentagon spending has sparked intense lobbying from contractors who have enjoyed profound taxpayer munificence. The specter of deficit reduction, however, has prompted greater scrutiny of how defense pork has contributed to the government’s ballooning overspending problem.
To their credit, some committees have heralded this call to cut waste by refusing to fund outdated and unwanted systems, such as the Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine program. However, stalwart spenders on the Senate Appropriations Committee have balked at efforts to rid the DOD budget of waste. Appropriators, led by Senator Inouye, have restored funding their colleagues in both chambers have eschewed for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Inouye enjoys profound financial support from the company that produces MEADS. While the Pentagon has repeatedly protested that it neither wants nor needs MEADS, the Chairman continues to defend wasting millions on its procurement, asking taxpayers to pick up the check for his corporate backscratching.
In place of cuts, Inouye and his fellow appropriators are claiming their “freeze” for defense spending constitutes sufficient restraint at a time when all eyes are searching for savings. In reality, this “freeze” means the Pentagon will be spending $6.2 trillion over the next decade-a total distraction from the hidden pork left in the budget. An outlier amongst defense appropriators and authorizers in the House and Senate, the earmarking for MEADS should raise the ire of critics currently transfixed on the Joint Committee members’ benefactors. What’s more, as lawmakers pivot to a CR to fund the government until such differences in appropriations can be hammered out, the MEADS program represents another opportunity to trim waste, especially as Senators clamor for increased FEMA funding that House members have said should be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.