CON GAMES: Real Bonus Babies in Defense Budget

05/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At a time when conservatives and liberals alike are caterwauling about bonuses for disgraced executives at politically bankrupt A.I.G., the U.S. Defense Department blows merrily along, squandering hundreds of billions with barely a peep from the cognoscenti on either side.

Conservatives looking to make a point about government incompetence and malfeasance -- their only point -- need look no further than here. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is reporting this week that the Pentagon's weapons programs were nearly $300 billion above the original cost estimates. The ten biggest programs blew through their original estimates by almost a third. In all, 64 programs (69 percent) exceeded their original estimates.

The Associated Press is reporting further that Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and the Boeing Co-led Future Combat Systems Army modernization "still represent significant cost risk moving forward," in the GAO's words .

Earmarks and entitlements are chickenfeed compared to these babies, but to conservatives the Defense Department has always been sacrosanct, as if all their talk of government run amuck can't even produce a cluck when it comes to weapons programs. Big bad government, you see, can only do good when the spending allows for destruction and carnage -- or should we say shock and awe?

This should be the last straw if only conservatives would strike the match. The simple truth is that conservatives as a breed always turn a blind eye to defense spending on the pretext of being "strong on defense." Ramping up defense spending was a hallmark and a benchmark of the Reagan Administration, when conservatives in America had their day -- or at least their morning -- at the expense of fiscal responsibility.

The Clinton Administration slowed the spending when the Soviet Union fell of its own weight, but hawks led by neoconservatives were not sanguine about a future that did not include a slam-bang military buildup. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, provided neocons and conservatives alike with all the ammunition they would need to take defense spending to another level.

Stop to think. Though the attacks were perpetrated by a handful of jihadists with credit cards and box-cutters, the response of the United States was to invade two countries -- with all the military spending that implies -- and to ramp up spending on weapons programs that would have little or nothing to do with the "war on terror."

Nomenclature matters: by calling it a "war" the Bush-Cheney Administration was able to easily justify war-like spending and an exponential increase in defense spending. The result: $300 billion in cost overruns and a revolving-door military establishment spending like a drunk sailor.

Even though we don't expect the apoplectic pundits of the right to have anything but a passing relationship to these truths, we should ask why the Pentagon always produces budget blindness on the Hard Right. The answer is butt-simple: just as liberals have their sacred entitlements, so too do conservatives have their untouchable weapons programs. All that easy talk about the dopes who run the government goes out the window in a stale acrid puff of "honor our soldiers" and "national security."

The Obama Administration has appointed Ashton Carter to change all that when in comes to Defense appropriations but don't hold your breath. If true reform of entitlements must come from the left-of-center then the endless reforms needed in the Defense budget must come from the right. Without real change there's a 69 percent chance all hope will blow up in our faces.