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U.S. troop funds diverted to pet projects
Senators diverted $2.6 billion in funds in a defense spending bill to pet projects largely at the expense of accounts that pay for fuel, ammunition and training for U.S. troops, including those fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an analysis.
Among the 778 such projects, known as earmarks, packed into the bill: $25 million for a new World War II museum at the University of New Orleans and $20 million to launch an educational institute named after the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
While earmarks are hardly new in Washington, “in 30 years on Capitol Hill, I never saw Congress mangle the defense budget as badly as this year,” said Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate staffer who worked on defense funding and oversight for both Republicans and Democrats. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information, an independent research organization.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, called the transfer of funds from Pentagon operations and maintenance “a disgrace.”
“The Senate is putting favorable headlines back home above our men and women fighting on the front lines,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Wheeler, who conducted the study, compared the Obama administration’s requests for funds with the $636 billion spending bill that the Senate passed. He discovered that senators added $2.6 billion in pet projects while spending $4 billion less than the administration requested for fiscal 2010, which began Oct. 1.
Mr. Wheeler said that senators took most of the cash for the projects from the “operations and maintenance” or O&M accounts.
“These are the accounts that pay for troop training, repairs, spares and supplies for vehicles, weapons, ships and planes, food and fuel,” Mr. Wheeler said.
Raiding those accounts to fund big-ticket projects the military does not want, but that benefit senators’ home states or campaign contributors, amounts to “rancid gluttony,” he said.
The administration’s budget requested $156 billion for the regular O&M account and $81 billion for O&M for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill passed by the Senate cut $2.4 billion from the regular account and $655 million from the war O&M fund.
Senate appropriators insisted that the O&M accounts, despite the cuts, do not shortchange the troops.
“The operation and maintenance title is fully funded,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, said during the debate on the bill. “There is no shortage. … The committee is deeply concerned that the critical operational needs of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are met with the finest equipment available.”
Money for the Kennedy Institute was inserted by Mr. Inouye and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, and Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, sought the funding for the World War II museum.
Whitney Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry, said the earmark was “a worthy investment.”
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