The more things change at the polls, the more they apparently stay the same in Congress. The Defense bill that the House Armed Services Committee is presenting today on the House floor is the first opportunity for this Democratic Congress to turn the page on the Bush administration's disastrous approach to national defense. Instead, it is poised to authorize more of the same, or worse.
For starters, the Democratically-controlled House Armed Services Committee (on which I once served) will authorize billions of dollars MORE for the national defense budget than George W. Bush ever requested from Congress. That's right-the Democrats want more military spending than George W. Bush ever thought necessary.
Turns out that the Defense bill Congress takes up today is less about meeting the national defense needs of the United States and more about meeting the pork-barrel political needs of Washington politicians. Or, as Yogi Berra would put it: "It's Deja Vu all over again!"
Take the F-22 fighter jet, for example. It's what I like to call the "plane-to-nowhere". Much like the heralded bridge in Alaska, the plane is an embarrassing waste of federal money at a time when providing health care security for all Americans is being called "unrealistic". It was designed to fight an enemy that no longer exists, the Soviet Union. We now have 187 of them, and that's 187 too many when comes to fighting actual wars. Not one of them flew in either Iraq or Afghanistan because commanders found them totally useless.
So, Secretary of Defense Gates announced that it was time to cancel the program. Then the military-industrial-political complex, and their massive lobbying and public relations machine, went into action. The Secretary responded to the pressure by calling for Congress to authorize and fund four more of these useless planes before cutting the program. The Democratically controlled House, however, decided to go one further, or rather, several further, using today's Defense Authorization bill to authorize three times as many F-22s as requested by the Pentagon: 12 planes at a cost that will ultimately exceed $2 billion.
This one was actually easy to see coming: The F-22 is a classic example of expert design. That is, expert political design. The production of the F-22 has been spread out over forty states making it as wasteful and inefficient economically as it is highly productive politically. Before the very first week of the new Congress ended, two hundred House members had already signed a letter calling for more of these planes-to-nowhere to be built. Almost all of them had a piece of the plane being built in their Congressional District.
Of course, the Iraq war has wreaked havoc on our soldiers. They've been forced into back-to-back deployments with less and less recovery time in between, and when their commitments are up, they've been forced to continue military service whether they wanted to or not. So, what to do?
How about resolving that the US is going to repudiate the Bush Doctrine that made the U.S. not only the world's policeman, but the world's military dictator, accountable only to itself? How about reducing the demand on our overstretched and broken Army by declaring no more unilateral invasions of countries that pose no threat, that we will respect international law, will engage in military actions only as a last resort and will work through the international institutions that we led the way to create, like the United Nations Security Council?
Secretary Gates took the supply side approach, spiking the size of the U.S. Armed Forces by 65,000 over two years to 547,000. And the approach of the Democratically-controlled House Armed Services Committee? Check and balance, maybe? Nope again. The House Armed Services Committee decided to do one better than Secretary Gates. Or rather, 30,000 better-calling for that much of an increase in the size of the U.S. military above and beyond the just-completed increase the Defense Secretary has said was sufficient. That's right: the Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee want to give the U.S. military 30,000 troops that it says it doesn't want or need! I hope someone asks in the floor debate today how many new Iraq-style adventures we are preparing for with this massive increase in troop levels.
Congressman Jim McGovern will try to squeeze a bit of common sense into the bill with a floor amendment that actually calls for what the President told a national television audience that the US needs: an exit strategy from the war in Afghanistan. So far, he has been able to collect 89 co-sponsors for his bill. The Win Without War coalition has been working closely with Congressman McGovern and other Congressional allies on this important amendment. Coalition member and allied organizations have stepped up: MoveOn.org, USAction/TrueMajority.org, Peace Action and United for Peace and Justice all sent alerts last week to their membership asking them to call Members of Congress in support of this bill. With any luck they will, increasing pressure on Congress to provide a badly needed check and balance to a very imbalanced defense bill.
So, today on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, the so-called "People's House", it is common sense vs. the Military-Industrial-Political-Complex. Call your House member today at (202) 224-3121 and demand that he or she help the underdog. Who knows, maybe then other underdogs like a health care system that is worthy of the name will have a fighting chance.