WASHINGTON — A vote is scheduled in both the House and the Senate today on what some critics are calling a "$265.6 billion pork barrel catalog." The legislation is the 1997 defense authorization bill, and the controversy it has generated stems from the manner in which a key House committee has lobbied for its passage.
In an unprecedented request, the National Security Committee asked the various services at the Pentagon to provide detailed information on how many jobs an additional $15 billion of add-on defense projects would create and in which congressional districts.
The unusual committee request points out an emerging reality for the US defense budget in a post-cold-war era. Increasingly, critics say, the defense budget is becoming a multibillion-dollar jobs program. Instead of basing decisions on need, lawmakers are writing defense programs into the authorization bill because of the size of the contract, the location of the contractor, and the number of jobs created.
The Pentagon supplied the job projections, but the request has created a certain tension between the military and some lawmakers. "This kind of information is not relevant to the formulation of defense policy," says Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Hansen.
But the information was invaluable to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) of California, chairman of the procurement subcommittee. Mr. Hunter, who represents a defense-intensive district in San Diego, said he wanted to use the list to make a pitch about the number of jobs the GOP version of the defense budget would create.
"Our president was going to places like California and standing before all the McDonnell-Douglas workers and saying, 'My defense bill means jobs,' " argued Mr. Hunter on the House floor. "The rest of the story is that while the president's bill might mean jobs, so did the bill that we were putting together in the Armed Services Committee."
Hunter was referring to President Clinton's highly visible trip to the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, Calif., this past spring. There, with much fanfare, Mr. Clinton announced an 80-plane government contract for C-17s, which he said would mean hundreds of new jobs at McDonnell-Douglas.
Ironically, all of this work by the Pentagon, defense contractors, and some lawmakers in putting together this "wish list" may have been a wasted effort. The White House has threatened to veto the bill primarily because it is $11.2 billion more than Clinton requested - largely for weapons he does not want.