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Published: Wednesday, 5/23/2012


Devil's bargain

Attempts to reduce the federal deficit are supposedly Congress' priority. But the military budget the House passed last week gives the lie to that notion. Even though they agreed to do so last year, Republicans -- and some Democrats -- can't bring themselves to cut Pentagon spending when push comes to vote.

The House-approved military spending bill of $642 billion is $8 billion higher than called for in the deficit-reduction deal President Obama and congressional Republicans reached last summer. The measure is larded with objectionable provisions that have little to do with essential defense, but are driven by political ideology or a desire to keep the military-industrial complex humming.

The bill would fund a missile-defense site on the East Coast that the Pentagon doesn't want. It would bar cuts in the nuclear arsenal. It would stymie the Obama Administration's hopes of closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

This bad bill, piled high with expensive and unwise wishes, would prevent the Air Force from closing bases without a review by Congress. That would tie the military's hands in managing its own facilities and give too much authority to Congress, which on the evidence of this spending bill can't be trusted.

It would prevent, for instance, the Air Force from transferring or retiring any aircraft in fiscal 2013. That would be bad for the country in overall base management.

The Air Force is partly to blame for the House acting this way, because it appears never to have done a full base-by-base comparative study. But that is no excuse for retaining inefficient bases and continuing spending that is not justified from a national perspective.

Congress should not acquire more power to micro-manage military facilities. The Senate version of the spending package needs to defuse this situation, because as the House plan makes clear, lawmakers can't be trusted to cut military spending -- even when they should.

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