Tanks for nothing

A plant in Lima builds and refurbishes Abrams tanks like this one.
A plant in Lima builds and refurbishes Abrams tanks like this one.

Ohio’s two U.S. senators, as well as a House member who otherwise seeks to define himself as fiscally prudent, are engaged in a full-court press for more funding for the Abrams tank, which is built in Lima. Just one problem: The nation doesn’t need this tank.

The generals and civilian leaders at the Pentagon have said repeatedly they don’t want the Abrams tank. Yet Ohio lawmakers persist in seeking to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an unnecessary and outdated weapon meant for a massive land war.

The tank means money for Ohio and jobs for Lima. But if we must spend money we don’t have, can’t we spend it on something we actually need?

At 70 tons, the Abrams is the granddaddy of tanks. Gen. George Patton would have been thrilled to have it. But World War II was a long time ago, and nobody thinks we will fight a war like that again. Tanks were of limited use in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Still, lawmakers of both parties have devoted nearly a half-billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to building a better Abrams tank. Now there is a push to spend an extra $436 million on the behemoth.

“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” said Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff. Some possibilities: salaries, health benefits, and Veterans Administration hospitals for current and former soldiers. Federal budget sequestration is cutting funding for all of these things.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana) and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol Hill’s most vocal deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, have said their support for the Abrams tank is based on “national security.” There is a case to be made for public expenditures and public works, on both economic and humanitarian grounds.

But spend the money on roads, bridges, and school buildings, which the nation needs desperately. Those too would create jobs for Ohio. You can’t oppose public-works spending in principle, but make an exception when that spending occurs in your back yard.

We get more bang for our buck building schools than tanks. Defending the wrong spending priorities at a time of budget austerity represents a failure to level with Ohioans, and a failure to lead.