The FY2014 NDAA: setting the record straight
A few days ago, the Senate passed, by an 85-15 margin, the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the bill making policies for the US military on the whole range of military affairs, from sexual assault and military justice to equipment and foreign basing. As is the case every year, this one’s NDAA has been the subject of many lies, so I will refute some of them to set the record straight. I will also tell you what the good and bad news is, as far as the bill’s provisions go.
The bill authorizes, in total, $607 bn for the DOD and the DOE, that is, 3.97% of GDP. Less than four percent of America’s GDP and less than seventeen percent of the total federal budget. Yet, those facts have not stopped extremely leftist anti-defense hack William Hartung of the Soros-funded “Center for International Policy” from lying blatantly that this bill supposedly proves that “defense hawks live in their own alternate reality, with no fiscal constraints.”
But then again, no facts have ever stopped Hartung from lying blatantly on any issue, so it’s not surprising. In any case, it is utterly idiotic and ridiculous to claim that a bill authorizing the expenditure of less than 4% of the nation’s GDP and less than 17% of its federal budget – and much less money than was authorized just 2 years ago – is one unconstrained by fiscal realities or that its craftors “live in their own alternative reality.” The one who lives in his own alternative world is Hartung.
The Soros-funded anti-defense hack makes such claims on the grounds that the bill is $30 bn above the sequester’s defense spending caps. But the sequester’s caps were always woefully too low to begin with, requiring defense spending cuts that – as has been proven by all non-leftist entities and analysts – will gut the US military if not repealed soon. The sequester should’ve never been created in the first place, plain and simple.
TCS President Ryan Alexander, for her part, falsely claims that the bill allegedly continues to authorize gargantuan amounts of money on weapons procurement spending, when it only authorizes $98 bn (less than one sixth of the total) for that purpose. $98 bn is a paltry amount, especially considering the DOD’s vast personnel and O&M costs.
In addition, Alexander objects to any expenditure on the F-35, the LCS, and the Abrams tank.
The F-35 is a deeply flawed airplane and the LCS a deeply flawed warship, that much is true. But they are the only strike jets and small surface combatants, respectively, currently being developed or procured by the USAF and USN, respectively. These services have absolutely no alternatives at all… unless they resume F-22, F-15, and Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate production, respectively. Which they do not intend to.
As for the Abrams tank, Alexander claims the DOD didn’t want the additional tanks and objects to any money being spent on them. But after over 12 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, many Abrams tanks have been worn out or damaged, some beyond economical repair. Moreover, the Abrams production line needs to be kept open to maintain crucial industrial capacity and skills – which will be lost of it is closed before Ground Combat Vehicle production begins in 2017 (as the Army foolishly wants to do). The skilled workers who produce and maintain the Abrams tank will leave the defense sector and find high-paying jobs elsewhere – and they won’t come back in 2017 – if the line is closed before then. So a skilled workforce would be lost forever.
Independent research has shown that keeping the Abrams production line open before GCV production begins would actually cost taxpayers LESS in the long term than closing it prematurely. If Alexander were TRULY concerned about taxpayers’ money, she’d be campaigning for keeping the line open.
By the way, we often hear claims that weapon systems should be terminated because “the Pentagon doesn’t want them.” In fact, in 99% of all cases, this is just a pathetic excuse by the opponents of a strong defense – the unilateral disarmament lobby – to kill crucial weapon systems they don’t like when a leftist, anti-defense administration (like the current one) is in power.
In any case, their argument is completely indefensible and irrelevant, because what the Pentagon wants is of little relevance. Why? Because the Constitution says so.
The Constitution assigns the SOLE responsibility for maintaining, equipping, clothing, feeding, paying, compensating, and caring for the military to the CONGRESS, not to the DOD, the generals, the individual services, or the President. It is solely the responsibility of the Congress. The military’s uniformed leaders may, and should, provide their expert advice. They, the DOD as a whole, and the President, may PROPOSE measures they deem necessary or beneficial. But it is the sole prerogative (and duty) of the CONGRESS to make those decisions. See Article I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution:
“The Congress shall have power… to raise and support Armies; but no appropriation of money for that purpose shall be for a term longer than two years;
… to provide and maintain a Navy…”
Similar provisions exist in Art. I, Sec. 8 WRT providing and maintaining military bases, having jurisdiction over them, providing for a military justice system, and maintaining and equipping the militia.
Nowhere in the Constitution is any such responsibility assigned to the Executive Branch.
I repeat: decisions on what the US military should be equipped with and what should it procure are to be made solely by the Congress, NOT the Executive Branch. And the DOD doesn’t have a monopoly on being right on those issues.
Consider that, for example, the Senate (specifically, Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia) forced the Air Force to buy more F-117s than it wanted, and Congress also ordered the military to arm its Predator drones (which were initially completely unarmed). Those decisions proved, in 20/20 hindsight, to be 100% correct.
The old “weapons the Pentagon doesn’t want/didn’t ask for” meme is a mere excuse used frequently by anti-defense organizations – such as TCS and POGO – to argue against crucial weapon systems the military does need but which the Pentagon – under political orders from the President, who controls it – has not requested. (Remember: the DOD is an agency controlled exclusively by the President. DOD leaders, military and civilian, tell Congress only what the President allows and orders them to say, and are forbidden to say anything contrarian to the President’s line.)
Now, WRT specifics, what are the good and bad provisions of the NDAA?
First, the good news:
1) The overall amount of funding is adequate ($607 bn), yet still very modest in proportion to America’s GDP (3.97%) and the total federal budget (less than one sixth, i.e. less than 20%). The NDAA, if the levels of funding it authorizes are actually appropriated, will restore funding for readiness, including flight hours, tank miles, and ship steaming days. Whether that funding is actually appropriated, though, is doubtful – even under the new budget deal passed recently by Congress, it will not be.
2) It authorizes $9.5 bn for missile defense programs, ranging from new radars to studies on East Coast Missile Defense to cooperation with Israel. It also prohibits Obama from transferring sensitive missile defense tech to Russia and from allowing Russia to set up radar, satnav, and targeting centers in the US (!).
3) It restricts, though not completely eliminates, Obama’s ability to implement the treasonous New START treaty and to eliminate ICBM squadrons.
4) It fully funds the Long Range Strike Bomber, Virginia class, X-47 UCLASS, and cybersecurity programs crucial to countering A2/AD threats.
5) It continues to prohibit Obama from transferring Gitmo detainees to the US.
6) It authorizes some funding for the hardening of base infrastructure at Guam (though it isn’t clear how much and for what infrastructure).
Now, the bad news:
1) This is only an authorization bill, not a budget or appropriations bill. So the actual amounts of money the DOD will be allowed to spend will be determined by the Budget Control Act and the recent Ryan-Murray deal, not by the NDAA. Which means the DOD will have a lot less to spend than the NDAA allows.
2) The NDAA prohibits many crucial personnel cost reforms, including badly needed reforms to the military’s unaffordable health programs like TRICARE – the premiums for which are tens of times lower than for civilian federal workers or for private sector workers, and which covers “children” up to the age of 26. Without these crucial reforms, personnel cost will consume all of the military budget by FY2039.
3) It prohibits the DOD from even requesting or planning for, let alone conducting, a new base closure round – even though the DOD has many more bases and much more space than it needs.
4) It doesn’t completely prohibit Obama from implementing New START or cutting the US nuke arsenal further.
5) It doesn’t authorize money for the actual construction of an East Coast missile defense site – thus continuing to leave the EC unprotected against ballistic missiles.
6) It does not authorize the Navy to reduce its carrier fleet, even though aircraft carriers are relics of the past and terribly vulnerable while being grotesquely expensive (America’s next aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, will cost $12.8 bn when completed). Indeed, it legitimizes the Navy’s continuing obsession with hyper-expensive and tragically vulnerable aircraft carriers and neglect of the submarine fleet, surface combatants, an ASW and demining platforms and skills.
7) It does nothing to increase the procurement of crucial ASW assets like P-8 Poseidon planes and sonars, or to reinstate the S-3 Viking ASW a/c into service, nor to add minesweeping assets to the Navy, nor to develop reliable anti-cruise missile defense systems.
8) It does not fund the MEADS program, even though the recently successfully-tested MEADS is far, far more capable than Patriot can or ever will be, even with expensive upgrades.
All in all, it’s not a bad bill, but it’s not a good bill, either. Basically, Congress needs to develop its own cadre of defense analysts and assert its Constitutional powers in writing America’s defense policy much more forcefully.