GOP Fattens Up Pentagon, but at What Cost?

THE military spenders in Congress have been keeping a low profile. They know it's hard to justify a new Republican congressional budget that lavishes $7 billion in additional spending for the Pentagon while at the same time passing one of the meanest, most radical, and most extreme domestic agendas.

The Republican budget fattens Pentagon coffers while it takes 45,000 children out of the Head Start program, eliminates summer jobs for 600,000 youths, and removes more than a million kids from programs designed to improve reading and math skills. The budget fattens Pentagon coffers while it eviscerates funds for safer drinking water, abandons 80,000 dislocated workers who depend on job retraining when they lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and denies loans to 150,000 students. It fattens Pentagon coffers while it cuts medical care for disabled veterans, raises mass-transit fares, takes police off the streets, lowers meat-inspection standards, and guts clean-air standards. The list goes on.

The military spenders know that all these harsh cuts could have been avoided if Republicans hadn't insisted on making a political statement by adding $7 billion to the military budget that the Pentagon didn't ask for.

Overflowing coffers

Next year, military spenders' smiles will be even brighter when the GOP budget pours $14 billion more into the Pentagon's coffers than the generals and admirals had planned to spend. This same budget will threaten the existence of critical health, safety, law-enforcement, education, transportation, and pollution-control programs.

Because of this largess, the military spenders are wasting no time in loading up the various defense bills with all sorts of goodies. We have more multibillion-dollar B-2 bombers, more Navy ships, and more aircraft, tanks, and helicopters. There is more money for Star Wars. There is so much money sloshing around that Republicans want to spend an extra $200 million to accelerate production of the F-22 fighter plane. New multiyear military spending commitments are being made at the speed of light.

But there is trouble ahead for military spending. In what I can only guess was a political decision, the Republican seven-year budget resolution front-loads its planned military-spending increases to the Pentagon's budget over the next two years. After that, the military-budget roller coaster starts on a steep four-year slide that bottoms out in 2001 at $9.4 billion below the Clinton defense budget. In fact, the Republican military budget is actually less than the Clinton defense budget in each of the last three years by $17.5 billion.

This ride on the ''big dipper'' is going to put the Pentagon in an incredible box because all the bills for these commitments will be coming due at the same time that the total of available defense dollars compared with the president's budget begins to plummet.

The choice for the Pentagon will be either to cut back troops and close more bases or to waste billions of dollars by canceling some of these procurements in midstream. The other option would be to cut Medicare even further to pay for the excesses that we commit to now.

Many crusty congressional budget veterans will pooh-pooh evidence of the Pentagon's roller-coaster ride over the next seven years. They believe future spending projections in budget resolutions are as phony as three-dollar bills.

They are in for a shock. Republicans have set the seven-year plan in stone. If Republicans stay in control, military spenders will discover that there is no way to finance their Pentagon goodies unless they make further cuts to Medicare or Social Security, raise taxes, or cut what's left in our domestic health, safety, law-enforcement, transportation, or education programs.

Now is the time to be responsible. We shouldn't make new multiyear, multibillion-dollar commitments for programs of marginal worth if we can't finance them down the road. Proposals to add 20 new B-2 bombers at a cost of $18.5 billion over seven years ($38 billion over 20 years) or to start a crash program to build a limited ''Son of Star Wars'' missile-defense system costing at least another $5.6 billion over seven years are fiscally irresponsible. This country's financial security is better served by saving this money and cutting the deficit.

No new B-2s

The House can start by passing the Kasich-Dellums-Obey Amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill. It would strip out $500 million earmarked for a down payment on two new B-2 bombers. These planes fall into the category of ''nice to have'' if money were no object.

Taxpayers expect more from Congress. They expect us to make the hard decisions and not waste their money. In the case of military spending, this means looking over the top of the roller coaster and planning for the big dipper.

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