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Deadline Looms: Congress Needs to Get Serious, Cut the Pentagon Budget

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Co-authored by John Amick

As the New York Times reported earlier this week, leading members of the U.S. Senate are scrambling to devise a plan that averts automatic sequestration budget cuts scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 2, 2013. What remains to be seen is how any kind of deal will address a massive, wasteful $700 billion-a-year Pentagon budget and not place the bulk of deficit-reduction solutions on slashing vital programs like Social Security and Medicare.

The sequestration cuts, which passed in a bipartisan effort via the Budget Control Act of 2011, require a reduction of $54.7 billion per year over the next nine years to both the Pentagon budget and non-defense spending. Cutting this amount from the Pentagon would bring its budget back to 2006 levels, hardly a time of desperation for the Pentagon and the many contractors that got fat during two wars, as Brave New Foundation's War Costs campaign has pointed out before.

While the sequester would enact indiscriminate cuts to the Pentagon budget -- though the Obama administration has ensured that the cuts would not impact military personnel or veterans' benefits -- there is no reason why Congress could not target specific programs that are wasteful

Defenders from Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and K Street have fought vociferously in the last year to protect the the Pentagon Scheme, the excess and profit exemplified in America's war machine. The rhetoric about cuts to the Pentagon's budget -- which is five times larger than the next biggest defense spender, China, and about $100 billion more than then next 10 nations combined -- has been excessive and hardly anything but fear mongering. Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, defense industry darling Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and others call it "doomsday," "catastrophic," a hollowing of the force, akin to a "brigade without bullets." Mitt Romney said these level of cuts "is like putting a gun to our head." These officials spout these claims in the face of extreme Pentagon waste, such as NASCAR sponsorships, marching bands, military equipment graveyards and a $666 million advertising budget.

Here's Romney, from a recent series of videos from War Costs:

(Watch more videos like this with ridiculous rhetoric from Panetta (Part I and II) and McKeon.)

Take a step back and analyze just what these "leaders" are trying to sell to the American public. That a 2006-level Pentagon budget would be a dire, cataclysmic prospect for the U.S. These officials are in direct conflict with public opinion in the U.S. So if guarantees to servicemembers are protected, if a bigger and more wasteful Pentagon does not guarantee safety and if the American public, on a bipartisan basis, has said time and again it is more than willing to see a lower level of Pentagon spending, then what are the opponents of these Pentagon cuts protecting? It's clear: Profits of defense contractors and the influence lobbyists have on members of Congress are a main impediment to any sane amount of Pentagon cuts. 

William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, and Stephen Miles, director of Win Without War, break it down:

The truth is that companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman could afford to keep on most if not all of their existing work force if they chose to do so. Instead, they are propping up CEO salaries that often reach over $20 million per executive while throwing skilled workers overboard. That means that highly paid contractor executives earn more in one day than the average worker earns in an entire year. Or, looked at another way, as calculated by Ben Freeman of the Project on Government Oversight, the pay of an arms industry CEO could pay the salaries and benefits of 335 soldiers.

And this doesn't even take into account the millions that the defense industry spends on lobbyists -- $133 million last year alone. These funds helped finance the activities of over 950 lobbyists -- nearly two for every member of Congress. These lobbying efforts were reinforced by over $26 million in campaign contributions to key members of Congress over the past two election cycles. This combination of influence peddling and campaign cash too often trumps good policy.

Again, it's clear who takes precedence within the halls of power, on Capitol Hill and beyond. War profiteers and their lobbyists, who shower members of a compliant Congress with campaign contributions, get their way, no matter what the reality is for the general welfare of the country.

We must demand our elected representatives respond to our will, or else what are they in Washington for but to simply pad their pockets and those that keep them in power through lucrative political donations? 

Congress has two choices with the Pentagon budget: profits or the American people. Tell opponents of budget cuts their scheme is up. 

Go to WarCosts.com, visit us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more. Expect much more from War Costs as this debate unfolds.