- - Monday, December 8, 2014

The House has passed the $585 billion Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Clearing that obstacle is good. Unfortunately, the legislation is larded with billions of dollars in waste and fat, and now the Senate must muster the determination to do what the House wouldn’t.

The defense act includes $64 billion for an Overseas Contingency Operations account, $200 million for the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile and another $120 million for a tank that looks so much like a boondoggle, identifiable from a mile away, that it has attracted bipartisan scorn.

The Overseas Contingency Operations account was created to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, exempt from spending caps and sequestration provisions. The money it gets can be spent with little oversight, which is why it has attracted such robust scorn by both Congress and outside groups.

A bipartisan collection of lawmakers, including House Republicans Mike Coffman of Colorado and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, and House Democrats Patrick E. Murphy of Florida and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, have offered an amendment to kill the account graveyard dead.

Nearly 40 organizations, including the Republican Liberty Caucus, Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, National Taxpayers Union and Campaign for Liberty have come together to ask Congress to dry up this slush fund.

Some of the big spenders in this dying Congress have used the account to bypass budget caps and obtain Pentagon money that they were never meant to have, by shifting more than $10 billion to put into the slush fund. The scheme both obscures the true cost of the military budget and avoids the hard choices the military asked Congress to make. The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, designed to replace the Tomahawk Missile for example, should not get more money, but sent to the scrap heap.

One informed critic is Steve Russell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, winner of the Bronze Star and student in how this works, who observes that the missile “is years away from proving itself and [such] missile programs have a pretty poor track record. [The missile] closely resembles the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, a weapon with a long history of failed test launches.” Even if [the missile] isn’t beset by technical problems, it could be over a decade before the program becomes operational.”

Finally, even though the Army told Congress that it would prefer to buy no more of the outdated Abrams tanks, the Defense Authorization Act includes a $120 million earmark for more Abrams tanks. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told Congress emphatically that there’s no need to buy more such tanks.

Senators have copies of the Defense Authorization Act on their desks and are expected to vote before the 113th Congress stumbles to extinction on Friday. Before they approve the legislation and send it to President Obama, Congress should trim the expensive and unnecessary proposals in the defense act.

The Defense Department must have all the equipment and money it needs to protect and defend the nation. That should not and does not include a $64 billion slush fund, an unwanted anti-ship missile and improvements to a tank the Army no longer wants. That’s plain logic and simple arithmetic.

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