Having made themselves unable to help constituent businesses through earmarks – for which deficit hawks thank them – Congress appears to have found a new method: going above and beyond what federal departments request in their corresponding appropriations bills. Unfortunately for them, this is one area in which giving someone more money than they need will get you either nowhere or somewhere disagreeable. Next time, stick to an extra $20 in the birthday card.
This year, the Defense Department requested $74 million for upgrades to a series of Cold War-era tanks, the M1A2 Abrams. The House passed a defense authorization bill for 2013 that appropriated a cool $181 million for the upgrades – plus $91 million more from the Senate bill, which will upgrade 33 more tanks. They say it’s needed to keep a tank factory in Ohio running. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta points out that the increase here will mean cuts elsewhere, perhaps an area of the defense budget that is more strategically vital.
This is one more argument for electing more businesspeople to federal office. They’re more likely than career politicians – plus those who were lawyers before becoming politicians, and you can’t vomit without hitting one of those – to think long-term about their spending. Sure, 33 more upgrades keep a plant running for a while. But at some point you will run out of business for them, and there’s no sense not to give them the bad news when they need it.
If the Pentagon has to cut back on other inventory spending, that could mean job losses elsewhere in the country. If Congress is refusing to consider the military’s needs, they are obviously considering the needs of a specific region. Though he is not mentioned in the above article, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) comes from the district where this factory is situated. He sits on the Budget Committee and the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. You do the math.
I’m very sorry for the employees at this plant who will probably lose their jobs. But this is about two issues that are much larger than one plant: the federal budget, and military capability. Both of those need to take a back seat so Congress can have the breathing room needed to help factories create jobs for clients who aren’t as constrained as they are. If they are so desperate to spend this extra money, they might want to put it toward broader job creation efforts in that district.
Sometimes my dad says the U.S. needs a “really big war” to jump-start the manufacturing sector. I have a feeling the employees of this factory will agree with him when Congress finally bites the bullet and stops authorizing spending on tanks.