The Pentagon as a Jobs Program

PrintPrint

One of the realizations that helped me to dispense of the neoconish foreign policy views of my youth is that for federal policymakers, the Pentagon is like a giant jobs program. Regardless of need, a military installation or armament factory can generally count on the unwavering support of the member of Congress who represents the district or state where the facility is located. 

On Monday, the Associated Press’s Richard Lardner provided a textbook example: over the past two years Congress has spent almost a half billion taxpayer dollars—and wants to spend another $436 million—upgrading Abrams tanks that experts and the Army itself say aren’t needed.

Who are some of the biggest congressional backers of the tank upgrading? Why, Republican “deficit hawks”! 

Keeping the Abrams production line rolling protects businesses and good paying jobs in congressional districts where the tank’s many suppliers are located. 

If there’s a home of the Abrams, it’s politically important Ohio. The nation’s only tank plant is in Lima. So it’s no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol’s Hill most prominent deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. They said their support is rooted in protecting national security, not in pork-barrel politics. 

“The one area where we are supposed to spend taxpayer money is in defense of the country,” said Jordan, whose district in the northwest part of the state includes the tank plant.

Ah, yes, the “national security” excuse—probably the most cited justification by politicians to spend other people’s money since the ink dried on the Constitution.        

Remove the flag that politicians like to wrap themselves in and it becomes pretty obvious that crass pork-barreling is the big motivator. Defense contractors know the score, which is why work is farmed out to subcontractors in numerous states and districts: 

The Lima plant is a study in how federal dollars affect local communities, which in turn hold tight to the federal dollars. The facility is owned by the federal government but operated by the land systems division of General Dynamics, a major defense contractor that spent close to $11 million last year on lobbying, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics… 

The first editions of the Abrams tank were fielded in the early 1980s. Over the decades, the Abrams supply chain has become embedded in communities across the country. 

General Dynamics estimated in 2011 that there were more than 560 subcontractors throughout the country involved in the Abrams program and that they employed as many as 18,000 people. More than 40 of the companies are in Pennsylvania, according to Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., also a staunch backer of continued tank production. 

A letter signed by 173 Democratic and Republican members of the House last year and sent to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demonstrated the depth of bipartisan support for the Abrams program on Capitol Hill. They chided the Obama administration for neglecting the industrial base and proposing to terminate tank production in the United States for the first time since World War II. 

This is why U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing the security of wealthy allies