Friday, January 07, 2011

Federal government to lay off 70,000

In an effort to reduce the deficit, the federal government will reduce its payroll by 70,000 over the next 5 years.  Will there be thousands of IRS employees at the unemployment office?  Are we getting rid of the Department of Education?  Nope, we are downsizing the military during a war.

Defense officials will slash $78 billion in program spending and begin cutting up to 70,000 soldiers and Marines as federal budget officials tighten the purse strings on military spending.

While the federal government is still adding employees (up 20% from 2008 to 2010) the military is being forced to draw down its strength.

There is no doubt that there is money to be saved in the defense budget.  Pork barrel spending is still rampant here, with congressmen voting for military programs and weapons systems that are unwanted but paid for because of the jobs saved or created in their districts.  One of the more ridiculous examples of this was two years ago, when Rep Bart Stupak not only finagled $100 million more than the Navy requested for littoral combat ships, he publicly complained when they didn't spend the money fast enough-

Congressional approved funding for the United States Navy in Fiscal Year 2009 provides $1.02 billion – $100 million more than requested – for the procurement of two Littoral Combat Ships. With hundreds of jobs hinging on the acquisition of the contracts, we hope the Navy moves as soon as possible to award the contracts for the building of the LCS ships.

Congressional pork spending on military projects continues, such as this item from the 2011 defense budget for cargo planes-

C-17 cargo planes were conspicuously absent from the 2011 bill. Gates has said repeatedly he doesn’t want any more, but Congress has voted to buy them anyway. And that may happen again, Sharp said. Even though the Armed Services Committee has not added them to the budget, the House and Senate Appropriations committees probably will.

This is an area that the Tea Party, and those new members of Congress who ran as Tea Party candidates, need to focus on.  Any Congressman who writes in funding for programs or weapons that the military doesn't want should be identified, highlighted, and ridiculed.  The defense of this country is not a jobs program, and Congress needs to stop mandating that the Pentagon spend money on things it doesn't want.

Another area that the military can easily save significant amounts of money-pay and entitlements.  Just like with unwanted weapons programs, Congress requires the military to pay some soldiers more than is justified.  The biggest culprit-hostile fire zones.  In theory, any area where there is a fair chance of getting shot at is designated as a combat zone.  But you might be surprised to learn that the US is technically involved in three wars right now-Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.  Most people couldn't even find Kosovo on a map, and there hasn't been a death or injury of a US service member due to enemy action in over a decade.  Yet the military still pays soldiers stationed in Kosovo as if they are at war, and they are still given the combat zone tax exclusion, the same benefits as troops on the front lines in Afghanistan.

So why are we still officially at war in Kosovo, 10 years after the fighting stopped?  Free spending Congress.  In 2003, the Army switched from stationing active duty troops in Kosovo to National Guard units.  It was a common sense move, which sent better trained active duty units to combat in Iraq, and used Guard and Reserve units to run the US mission in Kosovo.  But the change from active duty to Guard and Reserve meant that now individual congressmen had a vested interest in keeping the benefits high for soldiers in their districts.

Far from being a partisan issue, then Sen Norm Coleman, current Sen Amy Klobuchar, and current Rep Tim Walz all argued in favor of keeping Kosovo a combat zone in 2007.  The real reason for their request?  A large deployment of Guard soldiers from Minnesota.

Consider the headlines from a month ago, when North Korea fired artillery on South Korea, and the threat of war seemed to loom ever closer.  Then consider the fact that the 30 plus thousand US military personnel are not paid hostile fire pay, nor do they receive any tax exclusion benefits. 

There are plenty of areas to cut the defense budget.  But the real question is whether we can trust our Congress to cut the actual pork, rather than the personnel that we may need just around the corner.

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