Rebuttal of Sen. Coburn’s claims about defense spending

In an August 20th article for the Washington Examiner, Sen. Coburn falsely claimed that:

“For many Republicans, defense spending has been our Medicare. We have treated defense spending as irrationally sacrosanct, and have been resistant to embrace the very reforms that would strengthen our national defense.”

and that

“The greater problem is members on both sides of the aisle who have used our national defense as a jobs program. Weapons systems have been spread out to numerous congressional districts to protect career politicians, not the American people.”

and that

“A long-needed spotlight, shining on our vast military-industrial complex, will go a long way toward ensuring members of Congress are directing money to protect the country, not their careers.”

and that

“Both parties have been complicit in letting DoD off the hook when it comes to producing an audit…”

Those are very tall claims, Senator. And they’re completely false.

As to the first claim: it is completely untrue that “for many Republicans, defense has been our Medicare. We have treated as irrationally sacrosanct.”

In fact, in the last 3 years alone (not to mention the last 50 years), Republicans have repeatedly agreed to cut defense spending significantly.

In 2009 and 2010, Republicans meekly agreed to kill over 50 crucial weapon programs, including the F-22, the Airborne Laser, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, the Multiple Kill Vehicle, the CSAR and AF Silo helicopter replacements, the AC-X gunship, the Zumwalt class, and many others.

In December 2010, 13 Republicans wrongly agreed to vote for the New START arms reduction treaty, another big defense cut. That misbegotten treaty obligates the US to unilaterally cut its nuclear arsenal while Russia is allowed to grow its own.

In 2011, Republicans voted to approve and implement Secretary Gates’ $178 bn Efficiencies Initiative.

And in August 2011, Republicans meekly agreed to Obama’s demand to include deep defense cuts in the debt ceiling deal, then voted for that bad deal. It includes $487 bn in first tier defense cuts and $550 bn as a sequester.

So much for the oft-repeated claim (Sen. Coburn is not the only one spreading it) that Republicans have never agreed to cut defense, or treat it as sacred, or that defense has been Republicans’ “third rail” or “Medicare”. It’s a blatant lie without any basis in fact.

Republicans have opposed reforms that would strengthen America’s defense, Senator? What reforms would that be? The 1 trillion defense cuts you proposed last year that would gut the US military and expose America to a Russian nuclear first strike through deep cuts in America’s nuclear deterrent? Those are not reforms, Senator, those are foolish defense cuts proposals, and you shouldn’t be surprised that they haven’t been implemented.

This is a package of real reforms. Your proposals are destructive defense cuts.

As for the “vast military-industrial complex” claim, it’s also a blatant lie. There is no military-industrial complex in America. The defense industry is on its last legs, ravaged by decades of defense and acquisition cuts, and its largest companies aren’t even in the top 30 on the Fortune 100 list. Nor are they among the top 30 (or even top 32) biggest contributors to politicians and political parties in America; pro-Democrat groups and unions are. ActBlue, the single biggest contributor, donates almost as much to politicians as the top four defense companies (LM, Boeing, NG, GD) combined.

Furthermore, as this graph proves, the defense industry is, in general, one of the 5 smallest contributor industries donating to politicians. Unions (such as AFL-CIO, SEIU, and teachers’ unions) are the biggest contributors by far. The defense industry is a pygmy by comparison.

The “vast military-industrial complex” that Sen. Coburn decries now amounts to a paltry 4.22% of America’s GDP (which is $15.29 trillion). Yes, that is what the entire military budget, including war costs and the DOE’s nuclear weapon programs, costs in total – just four and a quarter percent of America’s GDP.

The “vast military-industrial complex” Coburn decries couldn’t even prevent the inclusion of sequestration in the debt ceiling deal, or that rotten deal’s passage, or convince the Super Committee to agree on a deficit reduction agreement to prevent the sequester’s triggering!

That’s because the “vast military-industrial complex” doesn’t exist. It’s a fantasy, a false boogeyman just like Hillary Clinton’s “vast right-wing conspiracy”. The opponents of a strong defense, including Sen. Coburn, scaremonger the American people with the MIC fantasy to induce them to agree to deep, destructive defense cuts.

As for the claim that both parties have been complicit in letting the DOD off the hook: besides the fact that they have implemented several rounds of ever-deeper defense cuts, they have not let the DOD off the hook. Last year, the SASC unanimously passed an NDAA bill requiring the DOD to be audit-ready by 2017 and to produce an auditible SBR by 2014. Furthermore, Congress has passed an NDAA cutting the SECDEF’s party fund, a provision authored by Rep. Randy Forbes specifically to send a message to the DOD to produce auditible financial statements (Forbes has been working on this issue for years). Furthermore, since, by Coburn’s own admission, Secretary Panetta has made it a top priority to produce such statements, how can anyone claim that the DOD has been let off the hook when it’s working day and night to achieve that goal?

But achieving it won’t be as easy as it sounds or as Sen. Coburn wishes it was. Achieving it – for the DOD or any other large organization – would inevitably be difficult. It will require, first and foremost, reliable business information systems. The DOD has acquired a number of  new systems of this kind, Enterprise Resourcing Systems, which are to perform functions of many legacy systems at the same time, but their acquisition cost has grown beyond initial estimates.

Achieving this goal will be difficult, and cannot be aided or hastened by legislative fiat. Legislating something won’t make it happen (yet Sen. Coburn absurdly believes it will). In fact, the “Audit the Pentagon Act” will actually do more damage than good.

Sen. Coburn should retract his false claims and apologize to his party colleagues for them.


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