Spending money on weapons is portrayed by many members of Congress as being patriotic. And, given this is an election year, it's important to be seen as patriotic.
In addition, lawmakers like to please military contractors, especially when they provide jobs in their districts and, perhaps, hefty campaign contributions. They often cloak the motive in patriotism because it's an easier sell.
But lawmakers are being idiotic, not patriotic, and wasteful when they approve hundreds of millions of dollars in military spending for equipment and programs the Pentagon does not want.
It happened again last week when the House more than tripled funding for an updated version of a Cold War-era tank the U.S. Army says it doesn't want or need. The House didn't stop with approving $255 million for the Abrams battle tank. It also added hundreds of millions of dollars to the Pentagon's $606 billion annual spending bill for items the military didn't request, according to Bloomberg News.
"Under the guise of national security a lot of lawmakers stuff funding into defense bills that could benefit their district," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C.-based group that tracks federal spending. "The defense bills are the biggest honey pots for these type of shenanigans because there is so much more money to play with."
Now, to be fair, this money isn't simply flushed away -- it is being spent for its intended purpose of building tanks. The Abrams tank program keeps folks employed in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida.
The Abrams tank is still being used, but the Army is looking to go in another -- more efficient -- direction. The Abrams has been used for 30 years and was designed to take on Soviet forces in a land war.
The Army wants to cut spending on upgrading tanks to $74.4 million, a decrease of $362 million -- 83 percent -- from the current budget. It wants to suspend upgrades to the tank program as it resizes its combat vehicles based on experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Bloomberg.
The plan makes sense except, of course, to those who build tanks and the communities that count on those jobs.
The approval for funding in the House is hardly a surprise given the structure of Congress. People are elected by a specific district within a state to look out for the interests of that district.
Sure, those running for office might contend they are ultimately looking out for the best interests of the entire country but they know the key to getting elected or re-elected is pleasing the voters in their district.
It's no wonder the nation is deep in debt.
The reality is the military budget should eventually be getting smaller, not larger, as the U.S. is now mostly out of Iraq and making strides to get out of Afghanistan.
Military funding should be about having an efficient, effective fighting force, not a jobs program.