In tough times, we can't afford ineffective Pentagon spending that doesn't make the nation safer.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will debate a $608 billion defense appropriations bill, the largest piece of the federal government's discretionary budget. As a member of the House Appropriations and Budget committees, I take my responsibility for fiscal oversight seriously. That is why I will be offering two amendments to cut wasteful defense programs by $260 million and direct the savings toward reducing the deficit.
The first amendment I will offer with Rep. Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican, ends the Pentagon's professional sports sponsorship program and puts the saving toward reducing the deficit. You may be surprised to learn that taxpayers are spending $80 million this year to sponsor NASCAR and Indy car racing teams, professional bass fishing and ultimate fighting. Pentagon officials claim these subsidies are crucial for military recruitment -- but the facts say otherwise.
In May, USA Today reported that the National Guard's $26.5 million taxpayer-funded contract with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 NASCAR team resulted in the National Guard being "contacted by more than 24,800 individuals expressing interest in joining." Of these contacts, the National Guard spokesperson said that "20 were qualified candidates and that none joined." That's right, $26.5 million for zero recruits.
The Army cannot even produce numbers to demonstrate the effectiveness of its $8.4 million NASCAR sponsorship. All the national media attention on this issue may explain why the Army announced last week that it is ending its 10-year NASCAR sponsorship program, which an Army spokesperson described on CNN as "not a great investment." The Navy and Marines came to the same conclusion and cut their NASCAR sponsorships years ago.
The second amendment I will offer reduces spending on military bands by $188 million in 2013. Over the past four years, the Pentagon spent an incredible $1.55 billion (yes, that's billion) on military music. The Defense Department is proposing to spend $388 million in the coming year on 140 military bands and over 5,000 full-time professional musicians.
Military music has a long, proud tradition. However, borrowing $4 billion over the next 10 years from China to pay for the Navy Band New Orleans, the Air Force Falconaires jazz ensemble or the Army Medical Command Band does not advance our national security interests. I hope my House colleagues, especially Tea Party Republicans, will support my amendment. Spending $200 million for military ceremonial music, choral performances and country jam sessions needs to be enough.
Together, my two amendments would cut wasteful Pentagon spending by $260 million next year alone and result in $2.6 billion in savings over the next 10 years.
These amendments transcend partisan differences and strike many Americans as common sense. I've received hundreds of supportive letters from Republicans, Democrats and independents nationwide, including NASCAR fans and members of the military -- even military band members. But those citizen voices are up against a professional sports industry that has a powerful Washington lobby and is doing everything in its power to protect its taxpayer subsidies.
This is a fight worth fighting because if Congress cannot cut funding for bass fishing tournaments in the Pentagon budget, how will it ever be able to end out-of-control spending on dysfunctional weapons programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or the F-22 Raptor?
Budget choices are statements of our values. Over the past 18 months, Tea Party conservatives in the House of Representatives have responded to our nation's fiscal crisis by advancing an agenda of deep cuts in domestic programs that directly impact families and communities. I have strongly opposed cuts to federal investments in transportation, law enforcement, food safety and other important areas because they come with a social cost that does not make us a stronger country.
Last week, a House committee voted to kick 280,000 children off the school lunch program to save money. This week, let's see if Congress is willing to make even modest cuts to eliminate ineffective and excessive Pentagon spending.
Betty McCollum, a Democrat, represents Minnesota's Fourth District in the U.S. House.
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