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Dec. 18 2009 - 10:19 am | 841 views | 4 recommendations | 50 comments

Defense Bill Raids Personnel Funds to Pay For Weapons

The measure also trims personnel and maintenance accounts from previous versions of the measure to pump up weapons procurement for Afghanistan and Iraq by almost $2 billion.

via The Associated Press: Wrap-up bill clears Senate hurdle.

Every year about this time a tiny trickle of little-noticed news stories weeds its way into the papers, usually in the back sections. It’s the same narrative every year: Congress lumps all the unpassed appropriations bills together, slaps them full of pork, and quietly passes them (often in the dead of night) while everyone is already thinking about Christmas.

The defense bill is always the worst and most morally reprehensible, and this year is no exception. It should be noted that defense pork is one of America’s great bipartisan traditions. The scheme is the same every year, regardless of who is in the majority: Congress quietly shoves in earmarks for unnecessary and ridiculously expensive weapons programs, and pays for them by gutting the existing budgets for actual soldiers.

What most people don’t understand about earmarks is that they are not achieved by simply adding to the top number for the whole federal budget. Earmarks have to come out of the approved number for that particular appropriations bill. So if you want a highway earmark, the money has to come out of some other highway program.

In the defense bill, it usually works like this: Congress sticks in a few extra airplanes or ships as a handout to this or that member, usually in exchange for his vote somewhere else on some other issue. To pay for those earmarks, the favored targets for cutting are usually two parts of the defense bill: Personnel (i.e. military pay) and Operations and Maintenance (which includes such things as body armor, equipment, food, training, and fuel). Those of you who wondered over the years how it could be that soldiers in Iraq could somehow be left without body armor, well, here’s your explanation. They usually took the armor off those kids in order to pay off some congressman with an extra helicopter or two.

My old friend Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate aide who is now a well-known watchdog on defense spending, points out that this year is no different. There are over 1,700 earmarks in the defense bill that just passed, worth $4.2 billion, but those are

… just the earmarks they will admit to.  Not counted in that tally are the 10 C-17s for $2.5 billion, nine F-18s for a half a billion dollars (in the war funding part of the bill), plus the added $465 million for the GE engine…

And where did the money to pay for all that come from? This is another annual trick. Usually if you add up all the earmarks, the total amount spent will roughly mirror the amount of the cuts in personnel and O&M. Wheeler found the following:

  • $1.9 billion in gross reductions to the Military Personnel (pay) account based on the arbitrary justification that there was need for an “undistributed adjustment,” or in some cases “reimbursables.”
  • $2.1 billion in net reductions from the O&M account in the base bill; $1.4 billion of that reduction was based on phony justifications (indirectly based on some flimsy GAO analysis never made public), such as “historic underexecution.”  (If you want to review my analysis of this flimsy GAO analysis , see it at http://www.cdi.org/friendlyversion/printversion.cfm?documentID=4535.)
  • The House and Senate Appropriations Committees also raided the direct war fighting O&M account in Title IX of the bill by $1.5 billion.
  • Total O&M raids, thus, amount to $3.6 billion.

So, $3.6 billion in O&M cuts added to $1.9 billion in personnel cuts = $5.5 billion.

And $4.2 billion in earmarks added to $3 billion for the F-18s and the C-17s, plus $465 million for the Joint Strike engines (which the administration claims it doesn’t want) = $7.66 billion.

It’s always amazed me that this stuff isn’t more of an issue with the right. We’re talking about robbing soldiers to pay defense executives. They pull this scam like clockwork every year and nobody ever says a word — weird stuff.


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  1. collapse expand

    >”It’s always amazed me that this stuff isn’t more of an issue with the right. We’re talking about robbing soldiers to pay defense executives.”

    The GOP is very good at saying we should support our soldiers and then doing things like cutting veterans’s benefits to get some more defense-type spending, supporting defense contractors. Business still trumps the people, even those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

    Time for a dramatic reading:

    YOu can always hear the people who are willing to sacrifice somebody else’s life in vain. They’re plenty loud and they talk all the time. You can find them in churches and schools and newspapers and legislatures and congress. That’s their business. They sound wonderful. Death before dishonor. This ground sanctified by blood. These men who died so gloriously. They shall not have dies in vain. Our noble dead.


    But what do they dead say?

    Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got his Gun

  2. collapse expand

    WOW! You get around Matt. I have read several insightful articles from Winslow on counterpunch.org. Truly disgusting shit. But, I gotta ask you, what is the Federal Government up to these days that ISN’T totally reprehensible? I mean really its blatantly ridiculous at this point.
    Ya’ know, I was thinking something the other day: The only reason the gubment cares about unemployment is because when it hits a critical mass people will start fighting back, physically, and they will start going after these cocksuckers, physically.
    And these cocksuckers are actually scared about that. There are 329,994,000 of us and 1600 or so of them. We could defeat them with broomsticks if we were organized and united. Re: ‘Goldman Arming Themselves’

    • collapse expand

      Solid point-but the real question is, when the right to bear arms is taken away from us, will this include broomsticks, or just guns? I’m heading to WalMart to stock up on brooms tonight…

      I am confused, though, as to where “gypsysister” read that it’s just the GOP who pulls this kind of stuff. Business trumps everything in Congress, regardless of what side of the auditorium you sit on.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I can’t tell whether this is sarcasm or not. If so nice work.

        If not you realize of course that your 2nd Amendment comment directly contradicts your latter point regarding business trumping everything, don’t you?

        Not much is bigger business than the NRA, Gun Lobby and Gun Manufactures.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Yes, I know that the Dems pull this shit too. Just that during W’s terms, the GOP would spew this rhetoric that the Dems and anyone else who wasn’t for the was wasn’t for the troops. Since the GOP had the majority, it was easy for them to run through legislation as Matt described above to do things like fund attack planes but take away vet’s benes and not provide essentials to the men and women on the ground and in the air.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        A few decades ago someone in my home state (Wyoming) was killed with a tire iron and my father said that wouldn’t have happened if tire irons were illegal.

        I can see it now — the next big push in congress will be to get broomsticks, tire irons and shovels (O J Simpson killed his exwife with an entrenching devise [shovel])made illegal.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    One of the more ridiculous items in this bill is an $851 million Lockheed-Martin contract for them to develop Trident II nuclear missiles, and another $110 million contract with General Dynamics for some associated equipment. According to DoD’s budget proposal, the Trident II is designed to “deter” a first (nuclear) strike, which is total hogwash because it could just as easily be a first strike weapon itself.

    The US already has enough nukes to destroy any country many times over, and has had this capability for decades. To spend money on additional nuclear weapons systems at this point is like playing the tenth inning of a baseball game you’re already winning 20-3. There’s nothing left to gain, but if you play enough extras, you might get burned.

    • collapse expand

      Here’s the data on Lockheed Martin contributions to candidates:
      What would the dollars look like if failed congressional candidate (R-NJ,) and former LM executive, Chris Myers, had been elected? Not surprisingly, Obama and McCain round out the top 3.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        One of the funnier aspects of the health care debate was that we got to see Newt Gingrich decrying the introduction of a new “entitlement” program. But the fact is, during his little Republican Revolution, Gingrich’s district was in the top three or five districts in pork money received. A lot of that had to do with the fact that Lockheed-Martin was the biggest employer in the district. The hypocrisy is staggering.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Hmmmm. So Obama took $136,000 from a defense contractor, nearly twice as much as McCain? Does this mean the Nobel Peace Prize committee will want their stinking medal back?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      I thought long and hard about why the MIC wanted so vastly superior performance and number of nuclear weapons. It took a while but I think I got it:

      You need a 5 to 1 ratio only for a first strike scenario because you don’t want the other guy to have a chance to retaliate. They have to know where all the spots that one may be retaliated from are, hence the satallite fixation.

      In this way, you send 5 (or more?) volleys in staggered intervals at the same targets.

      So if the installations are completely destroyed anyway any launch within a command and control window would get the kabosh.

      Of course all of this is completely insane anyway as well as the CCCP having put an auto launch system online. But with enough missiles you could defeat this.

      And, of course the global environment would be uninhabitable for about a thousand years even if no missile made it to us or an ally. But if you are living underground like the Morlocks who really cares about that. Actually the Morlocks are already among us aren’t they?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        It can be interesting to debate the various nuclear war scenarios as happened constantly among American military leadership during the Cold War. However, as soon as a nuclear weapon is detonated on the soil of a nuclear power, all strategy goes out the window. There’s no telling what’s going to happen. And in fact, Mutual Assured Destruction is still the governing dynamic of all possible military conflict between nuclear powers. There would be no sense of China and the US going to war, or Russia and China, or any other nuclear combo, because the escalation to a nuclear holocaust always looms. Thus, whatever benefits a country might hope to gain through military action against another nuclear power, would be far, far, far outweighed by the likely costs (near-instant mass death) of such action.

        The Third World is a different story, and so the military hardware could actually come in handy. That way, if some dictator ceases to do our bidding for us (Saddam, Noriega), or some indigenous people decide they don’t want an American-backed dictator to rule them anymore, the US can go in there, shoot up the place, and “defend” itself from these “threats.”

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    Mr. Taibbi,

    There is your “Economic Stimulus Package” and “Welfare and Entitlements” for the wealthy and well connected (what is that eerie silence, Sen. John McCain perhaps). Where would the US economy be without the US defense budget, 1936 perhaps.

  5. collapse expand

    We need those fighter jets though. How else can we rise to the challenge of asymetrical warfare tactics like “suicide?”
    What I really can’t believe is the fact that they (neo-anythings) want their cold war toys and eat their terror yellow-cake too.
    But that’s the cowardice of machismo for ya.
    Sorry bout the huffpo link. Truthout had it but now it’s gone.

  6. collapse expand

    Matt Taibbi I love you. No matter where you appear, you’re the first one I read. I even subscribed to Rolling Stone because of an article I read at the Dentist’s office.
    You got me watching Favre/Vikings for the first time ever, you’re magic.
    This is another head shaker, what they do to our soldiers while they line the pockets of the rich is unconscionable – disgraceful – unAmerican.
    WE really need to stand up and fight back and I thank you so much for bringing this crap to light every day. You’re a hero!

  7. collapse expand

    And $4.2 billion in earmarks added to $3 billion for the F-18s and the C-17s, plus $465 million for the Joint Strike engines (which the administration claims it doesn’t want) = $7.66 billion.

    Why aren’t the Repubs shouting to the rooftops about THIS gross waste of money? The Repubs have been shouting the loudest about what this health care bill is going to cost, and yet this 7.7 billion doesn’t even get a murmur.

    And if we are going to talk about money being spent on defense ‘fluff’ we should probably also talk about the cost of caring for those poor soldiers who return from war damaged in one way or another — that is a bill that may take decades to show up; I can name a few veterans right now who could really use that 7+ billion that is going to go to some congressmans’ pet project.

    What did Obama say about how he was going to make sure the veterans who had fought for our country were going to get the help and respect they deserve? It is way past time for him to put his money where his mouth is!

  8. collapse expand

    Matt: “It’s always amazed me that this stuff isn’t more of an issue with the right
    We’re talking about robbing soldiers to pay defense executives. They pull this scam like clockwork every year and nobody ever says a word — weird stuff.”

    Well sort of not really Matt. The right uses soldiers it doesn’t like or care for them. It’ll talk them up in public but not put its hand in its pocket for them if it can help it.
    And for their part the working grunt is taught to just suck it up and make sacrifices and take pride in doing so because its good for the country/corps.

  9. collapse expand

    Say what the Pentagon really needs for Xmas is some encryption software for their killer drones.
    Seems anyone with some free software and a satellite dish can see where they hell they are going.
    He, He, He.

  10. collapse expand

    You know, Matt, American military hegemony doesn’t exist because we have more soldiers than other armies, but because we have better weapons, better bombs, better jets, better and bigger tanks, better cannons, better ships, better missiles.

    Weapons determine the outcomes of modern warfare. The qualitative and quantitative degree of firepower is the sole arbiter of military power.

    • collapse expand

      You say the US has military hegemony like it’s a good thing. It isn’t. The US has a sorry record of propping up murderous assholes as part of its “military hegemony.” And last time I checked, America does not have a divine right of interventions.

      Military hegemony vis-a-vis the other world powers doesn’t mean much, because nuclear weapons have a leveling effect. So China could have a military the size of Austria, but as long as it has enough nukes to destroy the West coast of the US, America’s “military hegemony” doesn’t mean shit regarding China.

      Where its hegemony does mean something is the Third World, and it is in these areas where the US has an abominable human rights record. What America has done in Latin America for over a century is downright criminal. Same thing with Southeast Asia. Henry Kissinger ought to be in The Hague. Ask the rest of the world what they think of America’s military hegemony.

      The US has a choice: it can adapt with the times, scale back its military budget, develop strong commercial ties with democratic regimes in developing, and take the lead in international cooperation, observe international law, and show the rest of the world that the most powerful country is willing to play by the same rules as everyone else. This will likely have a reassuring effect, and prevent other states from balancing against it. Not to mention, by pulling out of regions with crazy Islamists, they have less of a real gripe against the US.

      Or, America can continue its annual military boondoggle (whose cost increases about 5% annually), overextend itself by having bases all over the world, while the domestic situation continues to go down the toilet with stagnant wages and a decreasing standard of living.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Is this the ‘grown-up’ version of “My dad can beat up your dad.”?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  11. collapse expand

    Appreciate you spotlighing this issue, Matt!

    I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why it falls on deaf ears so often? We’re not witnessing anything new with the government and their tactics, but we are all witnesses to the most apathetic generation of Americans to have ever existed. Sad, frightening and maddening!

  12. collapse expand

    Politicians know that they can crow about keeping jobs when they do this. But, the truly sad part of this is that the Pentagon has encouraged it, even when it means that readiness suffers, and that’s a function of the revolving door in the Pentagon which everyone wants to keep well-greased and functioning. That’s the real high-maintenance item that no one neglects.

    Generals do not go home and write their memoirs and tend their gardens any more. They sit on defense boards. It’s been a corrupt system ever since the defense contractors figured out in the early `50s that the government wanted to keep the war goods industry operating continuously. And despite all the mention of Eisenhower’s warnings in his farewell address, it was Eisenhower’s first defense secretary, Charles Wilson, who put that program in place, and the people who served under Eisenhower in WWII who made it happen in the Pentagon. Then, there was a code in the Pentagon for generals going on junkets to be entertained by defense contractors: “going to a 3B meeting.” The three Bs being “beach, booze and broads.”

    Nothing’s changed in the intervening fifty years….

  13. collapse expand

    I love reading your articles, Matt. Is there one coming soon about this atrocity of a health care bill we’re about to be subjected to?

    I’ve seen Democrats do a lot of stupid and corrupt stuff. But I never thought I’d see Democrats lauding a legalized requirement to buy crummy insurance from the profit-maximizing oligopoly that is responsible for the current disaster as constituting effective reform. Now I’ve seen everything.

    I appreciated ‘Sick and Wrong’ but this farce of a process has progressed quite a bit more since then…

  14. collapse expand

    Ah, nostalgia, hearing the word ‘earmark’ takes me back to the golden days of September 2008 when stuff like this was actually part of a campaign issue and people cared.

    Things have gone so far off the rails since then that this barely warrants a raised eyebrow.

    It does make me think, though, that perhaps we should have elected McCain instead. Obama has been such an unmitigated failure that we would probably have had more fun with McCain the white house. At least then we would be ripping on one of them instead of our own.

    But mostly so that we could now be entering a few weeks of merciless ragging on McCain for utterly failing to follow through on his campaign promise to eliminate pork in appropriations bills. Because you know if we had a president McCain, this bill would be twice as fatty as it is.

  15. collapse expand

    Hi Matt! Saw you on Bill Moyers tonight. Keep up the good work by asking the hard questions and bringing the real issues to light! Do you have any talk show offers in the works? I think HBO needs to make you an offer! I enjoy reading your blog but I would love to be able to see you on TV regularly as well. Smart and Cute! Been drinking so I don’t have anything intellectual to share tonight. Love ya babe!

  16. collapse expand

    Yet another example of corporatism in government, whereby the interests of corporations merge seamlessly with those of the political parties at the expense of the people and the nation–and in this case, troops in harm’s way.

    Not to get too far off topic, Matt, but I think that this is an even stronger reason to oppose the health care bill. I saw your brief debate with Robert Kuttner on Bill Moyers’ program and thought you made some fine arguments. (Actually, I was surprised that Kuttner thinks the bill should pass.)

    But I think you could have made a couple of even stronger points: 1) there is something deeply repugnant about having our government act as enforcer for private insurers, shanghaiing citizens who can’t afford it into buying “insurance” that is grossly overpriced; 2) if the bill passes, it absolutely seals the deal between the Democratic Party and these insurers and cuts the heart out of our already deeply compromised democracy. The Democratic Party will truly become, as Nader used to say, a wholly owned subsidiary of these vile and socially counterproductive corporate entities.

    I realize I’m repeating what others have said. But it fits right in with your mystification as to why the right-wingers aren’t more upset about these defense earmarks. It’s probably because they’re not widely aware that this is how things work. And they’re not widely aware because their leaders — Republicans in office — don’t make an issue of it. And THAT’s because they (the GOP) are wholly owned creatures of the military-industrial (emphasis on industrial) complex, just as the Democrats are now owned by the medical-insurance complex. Other industries — most notably banking — factor in on both sides, of course, but the effect is the same.

    This is why I think that, once you factor out the hot-button side issues that divide us, there’s really a commonality of fundamental interests between left and right rooted in a pervading sense of national betrayal. And this all traces back to corporatism, the same forces that have converged over the past 40 years to slowly dismantle the American working economy in the service of bigger profits to be had by first exploiting vast pools of cheap labor and eventually developing bigger, more lucrative consumer markets in the billion-plus countries of China and India.

    The bridge to that hideous future is provided by the American economy and consumer, which are sustained in the increasingly impoverished interim by a succession of bubbles (credit, high-tech, housing) conveniently engineered by Wall Street and the financial industry.

    It’s all pretty clear from where I sit, and has been for some time. And, as enlightening and entertaining as they can be, I’m getting sick and tired of diagnoses.

    The real question is, what do we do about it? All — and I do mean ALL — the usual instruments for course correction are in the hands of the enemy. Any suggestions out there?

  17. collapse expand

    It is worth mentioning (because Taibbi fails to) that I and every other soldier in the U.S. military is getting a 3.4% raise on January 1 as codified in the 2010 Defense Authorization Act and signed into law by President Obama. It’s the largest percentage increase in years.

    I used to really dig Matt Taibbi but now I feel he’s sacrificed both the quality and accuracy of his writing in order to concentrate on shoring up this smart-alecky contrarian character he’s created for himself. How, exactly, are soldiers being “robbed” when we’re all going to make more money next year than we did last year, and benefits like health care and the GI Bill are more generous than at any time in U.S. history?

  18. collapse expand

    Why do you think Boeing, GE, Lockheed, et al. shard out their contracts to as many congressional districts as possible? For _precisely_ this reason.

    Even if we had a Harry Truman to root it all out, who’d bother to even pay attention? It’s all just nothingburgers until folks start getting put up against a wall and shot.

  19. collapse expand


    So you’re Ok with receiving a barely average cost of living raise (probably an extra $100 or so a month) while those proudly wearing their support the troops ribbons are cutting billions from an essential area of the war effort? Really doesn’t seem like a fair trade off.

  20. collapse expand

    It’s my impression that defense executives mostly ARE right-wing guys, and they are all buddies busily revolving through the door between the Pentagon and the defense contractors (among other big corporate welfare recipients). It’s no mystery to me why the right-wing are more than happy to throw rank-and-file soldiers under the bus for their defense executive cronies. The right-wing likes to claim it’s the party of “Real ‘Murikans” but the reality is they are rich elites who only rub elbows with the common man when they need votes or want to stir up opposition to the commiesociofascistgodless Democrats. Since most of the rank-and-file military are poor or middle-class Americans, the right-wing bigwigs have no qualms about sacrificing them at the altar of Big Defense when the time comes, especially if it means guaranteeing that corporate money, come election time. Which is all the time, these days.

  21. collapse expand


    I’m glad that you received a 3.4% COL raise this year, many people didn’t get any sort of a raise. However, don’t assume that means that you come out ahead. The dollar, which according to the dollar index was $.88 on 3/6/09, was at $77.78 on 12/18/09. And when you consider the cost of true inflation (see shadowstats.com), you realize that the value of the dollars you possess are shrinking faster than you can imagine. To be sure, our government will stop at nothing to prop up the illusion of economic prosperity, even at the expense of future generations.

    Oh, by the way, did you hear that Congress just voted to increase their credit limit? Let’s see where that gets us…

  22. collapse expand

    Republicans: The party of “national defense”

    Repubs only care about gov’t spending when it’s the other party doing the spending. They would bitch about this spending but then they would appear weak on national defense. See above.

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    I'm a political reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, a sports columnist for Men's Journal, and I also write books for a Random House imprint called Spiegel and Grau.

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