Crying of ‘wolf’ and a horde of ‘locusts’
Along about Nov. 23, the supercommittee of the U.S. Congress is going to fail to reach agreement on cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal budgets over the next 10 years. Pay no mind to rhetoric you have heard or read about cooperation and compromise. That was only an attempt to disguise that this committee was designed to fail.Its predictable failure should have been obvious to any adult who has followed politics in recent years. Neither the Democrats on the committee, nor the Republicans, have any incentive to come to compromise. To compromise might be in the interests of the general public, but these Congressional worthies have long since learned the lesson that their own interests — that is, getting re-elected — are more important to them than the public’s interests. When the supercommittee fails, Democrats and Republicans will then be able to go home and campaign on the theme that the other side is at fault for the failure. “Don’t blame yourself until you’ve exhausted all other possibilities,” a friend of mine once quipped, and I’ve found that most politicians on the national level use this as their mantra. The failure of the supercommittee to agree is supposed to trigger Draconian cuts to the budget, half in the Department of Defense funding, and half in social programs; those cuts have been painted as giving equal pain to Democrats and Republicans. There will be sequestration, meaning that budgets will be cut across the board by certain percentages, and that the agencies will not be able to avoid these cuts by accounting manipulation or other ruses.But we must look more closely at the Draconian cuts. They will not kick in until Jan. 1, 2013 — that is, until well after the next election, providing lots of time for Congressmen to introduce specific legislation to overturn parts of the Draconian cuts before they occur.They will do so, accompanied by cries of “wolf.” Recently, Army Secretary John McHugh told a friendly breakfast gathering that the Department of Defense could accommodate cuts already agreed to, of $450 billion over 10 years, but, as Gen.Raymond Odierno also testified to Congress on Nov. 2, the cuts to be made under the Draconian rule “would be catastrophic to the military.” (The quote and report of McHugh’s talk are in an article by Spencer Ackerman in wired.com’s danger room blog, edited by my son, Noah.) The drill then becomes: if we don’t fund all of the futuristic weapons now under development, add brigades to the army, unleash many more drones, and keep open all of our myriad bases around the world — if we cut a single further dollar from future defense appropriations — our enemies will invade us and we’ll be turned into dead bodies or slaves. And this, when the cuts to the Department of Defense budget are hardly Draconian. The $450 billion represents a cut of 8 percent, and the additional cuts would bring that up to 15 to 17 percent. Doubtless that would cause belt-tightening, but it would not be catastrophic. Closing some overseas bases — England, Norway, Germany, and Japan have been identified by responsible and experienced civilian military analysts as places where we should no longer maintain large military facilities — would accomplish this goal and leave virtually all of the other programs intact, even ones that experts know to be bloated, such as the development of an Osprey-type helicopter that has never worked but is still costing billions of dollars a year to test and produce. But look for the military, and for the rather large military-industrial complex, to cry wolf over the next year, and to attempt to prevent the Draconian cuts from taking place in the military budget. A horde of locusts — better known as lobbyists — will be unleashed in Washington. Lobbyists for defense contractors have been among the best-heeled and most generous with their contributions in Washington, more so that the lobbyists for the banking industry, although less so than those representing the pharmaceutical industry. In the 18 months between January 2010 and August 2011, the defense industry lobbyists spent $210 million on lobbying efforts. Two-thirds of the defense lobby funds went to Republicans in that period. These lobbyists and wolf-criers will try to thwart even the feeblest of good intentions by the lords of Congress to actually serve the American people by modestly trimming a military budget whose ballooning has been a prime cause of our national debt nightmare. Salisbury resident Tom Shachtman has written more than two dozen books and many television documentaries.