The perpetual political debate about deficits, spending and taxes always involves an uneasy topic: The cost of our nation’s security. And under the surface is the relationship between security and earmarks – the fiscal issue du jour on Capitol Hill.
Even an offhand reference to legislation to reduce defense spending tends to trigger neoconservatives and national security hawks, who argue that American security should never be compromised, no matter the economic circumstances.
A prime example is the deficit commission report that leaked this month, which recommends cuts all across the federal budget – including defense.
“While spending must be massively reduced to forestall a crisis, our national security is not an area to be sacrificed,” read a response by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that is almost always in favor of reducing spending.
Yet the opposition to earmarks may be more about the symbolism than it is about the numbers. Earmarks account for less than 1 percent of federal spending, according to the New York Times. And because earmarks simply set aside a portion of funds that have already been appropriated, they don’t increase the size of the budget, proponents argue.
The vast majority of defense spending doesn’t come through earmarks. Nonetheless, military departments and defense contractors are some of the top recipients of earmarks, according to data from Opensecrets.org and Legistorm.com.
The Republican caucuses in the House and Senate voted last week to ban their members from earmarking legislation for the next two years, as part of their pledge to reign in government spending. Democrats have yet to follow suit.
But some Republicans who supported the earmark ban added a caveat. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said November 16 that he maintains “the right to seek funding to protect our national security.”
“Earmarks have been abused,” Graham said in an interview with CNS News. “There’s plenty of examples of times when money was wasted. But I’ll give you one example of where an earmark I think was wisely invoked. Remember the Up-Armored Humvee debate?”
Jim Ludes, the executive director of the non-partisan American Security Project, explains that when the United Stated went to war with Iraq, only a small percentage of Humvees were armored. It took Congressional earmarks to appropriate the cash to protect American troops. (Continued . . .)