By Peter Galuszka
For several years, BR readers have read a steady stream of warnings about out-of-control government spending. Some of it has been sound and some shrill.
The arguments tend to strike first at predictable conservative targets including entitlements and support for the poor and education. On occasion, defense spending is brought up, but it is done reluctantly.
Well, we’re now seeing the results of all the Sound and Fury over spending and just how Congressmen and Senators on both aisles have made a real hash of it. To blame for much of the intransigence is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from Henrico Count, but on to the point.
The nuclear-powered attack aircraft carrier Harry S Truman was gearing up at her Norfolk pier for six to eight-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. Since 2010, the Navy has had a policy of keeping two carriers in the region as troops start to withdraw from Afghanistan, Iraq tries to get back on its feet and the conflict over nuclear weapons in Iran still stirs.
Deploying means lots of preparation for the sailors and Marines that make up the 5,000-plus crew of the Truman. Families move back home to save month, goods are put in storage, lower-paid enlisted families get ready for the extra combat pay, day care has to be stepped up, and so on.
But an angry Defense Sect. Leon Panetta did something highly unusual if not unique. He abruptly canceled the Truman’s deployment, saying that the Navy just can’t afford it with all the budget uncertainty in Washington. Keeping the Truman at home could save $300 million a year. “This will badly damage our national defense and compromise our ability to respond to crises in a dangerous world,” Panetta said.
The crew and their families from the Truman and her support ships are now quickly dealing with the stay-home scramble.
There have been defense spending booms and busts. The roar-up in World War II was followed by big cutbacks, led by none other than the namesake of the aircraft carrier in question. Same thing happened after Vietnam and since Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon never really paid for the Vietnam War, we got stuck with the bill with lots of inflation in the 1970s.
What’s different this time is that, whether one likes the foreign policy at the time, the military has more or less been able to ratchet up or down in a fairly organized way.
The Truman debacle shows just how screwed up the deal has become. President George W. Bush never explained how he would pay for two wars after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We still don’t know.
Virginia ended up a major beneficiary of the consequences, getting up to $12 billion a year or more extra in defense contracts. Scarfing up defense dollars were IT firms dotting the Capital Beltway, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and even Flowers Foods Inc., which makes baked goods.
It’s coming to a crashing halt. The fact that the Truman has been ordered to stick home reminds one of the rusting hulks of Soviet Navy ships in places such as Vladivostok after the USSR collapsed in December 1991.
Meanwhile, if a U.S. military unit under fire in Afghanistan needs quick air support, they may have to hope for a pilotless drone. If the Iranian nuclear weapons program suddenly takes a dramatic and dangerous turn, our Navy won’t be there, other than the one aircraft carrier in the area. Ditto if the civil war in Syria completely destabilizes the Middle East.
What makes me rather annoyed is the role the Tea Party idiots have played in this. They were riding high a couple of years ago with their spending cut mantra that few of them really understood. Some were holding the American flag and dressing up like Patrick Henry to say to the rest of us, rather arrogantly, that they were patriotic Americans and we, of course, weren’t. Certain bloggers at BR, nameless here out of courtesy, followed along with the spending cut mania.
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