Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How Much Defense Spending

A small tidbit became available last week through the excellent insight provided by Winslow Wheeler at the Center for Defense Information. Congress had just passed a Defense Authorization budget that was listed in some reports as costing around $448 billion dollars. It sounds expensive for a single year, but most would presume that this affords the cost of some of the military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some upgrades to equipment lost in the fighting overseas.

But is that the true cost of all things Defense-related? Not by a long shot says Mr. Wheeler. In his article titled, "The 2007 Defense Budget May Not Be What You Think", he states that there are many programs that are Defense related, but are not included in the authorization bill that both houses passed and the President signed. He states at length the numerous items that could and most likely should have been included in the budget process for the Department of Defense (DoD) but get addressed in other legislation to presumably hide the costs and increases in spending.
"The explanation for why the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act for 2007” does not include all DOD programs for 2007 is not simple.

Two years ago, the House Appropriations Committee reorganized itself and gave additional defense budget responsibilities to what had previously been its subcommittee that handled only military construction. All those “quality of life” functions (for basic housing allowances, facilities maintenance, environmental restoration, and defense healthcare) were added to what had previously been the Military Construction subcommittee in the House; it became the subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.” Accordingly, the House-passed DOD appropriations bill contained none of this spending; it was in the separate bill from the new subcommittee."

Wheeler's article contains a lot of granular oddities packed into the many bills, but it is worth the read if only to go to the end of the article to see his calculations of the true cost to the American taxpayers for the DoD.

The President's request for FY 2007 was an estimated $552.3 - $572.3 billion, and the Congress appropriated an estimated $566.9 - $586.9 billion. As the old addage goes, a billion here and a billion there and you eventually are talking serious money.

Many people are dedicated to exploring and exposing these budget tactics that Congress and the Executive branch employ to hide relevant costs. Wheeler and others should be thanked for their diligent work in these arcane areas constantly.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

An Alternate View Of Foley's Resignation

As the dubious scandal of a Representative making untoward sexually explicit messages to Congressional pages unfolds, it is important to be aware of the larger story that this episode represents. As an institution, Congress has apparently lost its way when it comes to representing citizens who placed them there in the first place.

Representative Mark Foley of the 16th district in Florida was found to be sending rather personal emails (described in the popular media as "overly-friendly") to at least one teenage Congressional page in 2005 though further disclosures are still coming to light of inappropriate contacts. As these actions came to light, there was little that Rep. Foley could do but resign his seat.

Most likely in two months time there will be little news on the front pages that refer directly to Rep. Foley, but there still will be a House and Senate leadership that continues to deteriorate.

This debacle is but a microcosm of how Congress has been operating over the past ten years under mostly Republican control. The notion that the House leadership chose to hide this speaks greatly to the power which they wield in a rambunctious and short-sighted manner. While the country can and has operated rather normally in the past with a single party in control of the executive and legislative branches of government, this 109th Congress and those directly preceding it have made business a form of strict party exercise.

Extending a normal 15 minute vote for three plus hours, passing major legislation with little or no debate on measures tacked on at the last minute, and ethical shortfalls of staggering proportions are forming what amounts to a tropical depression over the Hill.

The House and Senate weren't always this way; they used to be a little less corrupt. And not to gloss over the corruption that the Democrats brought to the body when they had the majority power for decades, but when contrasted with the long lurch that the Republicans have made in terms of altering rules and the normal order of the body, the Democrats were tamely corrupt. From Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein comes the book "The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track" which the following quote is excerpted (from page 216):

"Majorities are always tempted to dispense with regular order to advance their immediate policy and political objectives. Democrats were not reluctant to do so during their long rein in power, especially in the latter years. But Republicans have far exceeded Democratic abuses of power. Committees have been marginalized in myriad ways, from central party direction to ad hoc groups to ominbus bills. Floor debate and decision making is tightly controlled with restrictive rules and extended time for roll-call votes. Conferences to reconcile differences between the House and Senate are now the setting for breathtaking abuses: minority party members excluded from negotiations, entirely new provisions added in the stealth of night, and routine waivers of time for members to learn what is contained in the reports they must vote on."

The controversy surrounding Rep. Foley's resignation will undoubtedly focus only on the lurid details. Yet it is the problem of a dysfunctional Congress that would permit such inappropriate behavior (or worse, hide it) that is the real shame in this affair. Starting with the leadership and ending with an ethics body that has real teeth, it might be possible for the first branch of the United States government to function like a legislative body should.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What The Retired Generals Are Saying

An interesting article appeared in the most recent issue of The Nation magazine. Written by Richard J. Whalen and titled, "Revolt of the Generals", he looks into the statements of retired and still active military personnel in light of the ongoing occupation of Iraq. Their commentary and observations show distinct differences from the Administration's rhetoric. A brief excerpt:

"Rumsfeld publicly humiliated all who dissented, beginning with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was virtually dismissed the day he honestly gave his views to Congress. Rumsfeld's deputy, neoconservative ideologue Paul Wolfowitz, listened respectfully before rejecting the generals' advice. As the Iraqi insurgency grew, the generals found Rumsfeld "completely unable and unwilling to understand the collapse of security in Iraq," says Maj. Gen. Eaton. The severely understrength US forces have never been able to provide adequate security. Once Iraqi civilians lost their trust and confidence in America's protection, the war was lost politically. As General Newbold says: "Our opposition to Rumsfeld is all about his accountability for getting Iraq wrong from day one.""

Whalen puts together a piece that outlines why the military is extremely concerned that the occupation of Iraq not fully mirror Vietnam in every facet. It is a highly recommended read.