Earlier this month, House lawmakers passed a $643 billion defense budget draft, $4 billion more than the president’s defense budget request and $8 billion more than the cap set on defense spending Congress last year. The bill’s passage brought criticisms from House Democrats and Pentagon officials — including Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey — and stood in striking contrast to recent polling data showing that 65 percent of Americans would support cuts to military spending. But generous campaign contributions from the defense industry, and related industries that benefit from other Defense Department contracts, may explain the willingness of House Republicans to ignore the preferences of the American public and the military’s leadership.
An investigation for Time.com by defense budgeting expert Winslow Wheeler into “Pentagon pork” found that “the money being added for ‘Restoration & Modernization of Facilities’ was being added without any meaningful guidance, none whatsoever.” Funding for “Restoration & Modernization of Facilities,” which Wheeler characterizes as a having “the distinct odor of being a slush fund,” totals $594.7 million.
But the House Armed Services Committee members who passed the oversized defense budget draft may have other interests in mind. Four of the top-ten industry campaign donors to House Armed Services Committee members, as categorized by OpenSecrets.org, would appear to benefit from this “slush fund.” “Defense Aerospace,” “Real Estate,” “Misc Defense,” and “Building Trade Unions,” already contributed a total of $4.89 million to House Armed Services Committee members in the 2012 election cycle. The majority of that went to Republicans.
And House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) and his leadership PAC are the top congressional recipients of defense industry campaign dollars. See the chart below to see how defense dollars stack up against his other campaign contributors:
The apparent contradiction of House Armed Services Committee members passing an oversized defense budget which exceeds that requested by the military and defies the U.S. public’s preference for a reduction in defense spending makes more sense when viewed in the context of defense industry, and industries which benefit directly and indirectly from defense related appropriations, contributions to committee member’s campaign committees and leadership PACs. Indeed, the contributions offer a monetary incentive for committee members to advocate for additional budget items — such as an East Coast missile defense system which Gen. Demspsey said was unnecessary — and create “Pentagon pork.”