Our View: Congress' white elephant army

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 11:52 AM

Editorial Board

With trillions of dollars of deficits, the idea of Congress having control of spending is akin to a grossly obese man with a severe eating disorder being asked to guard an unlocked closet containing the tastiest desserts. If one wants to see the comedy of pols who preach fiscal prudence actually managing the nation’s budget, head to the airstrip at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

As the Associated Press reports, a dozen-plus obsolete, huge C-5A Galaxy transport planes are periodically towed up and down the tarmac so the wheels don’t rot. There are no plans to fly the massive planes, or even repair them. The Pentagon, quite appropriately, wants these military white elephants retired. But Congress won’t do that.

The reason lawmakers are so reluctant to implement needed cuts suggested by military experts is because too many members of Congress are more responsive to their district’s constituents than the overall well-being of the military. Keeping an obsolete C-5A Galaxy transport plane just to periodically tow it around a tarmac seems more fit to a “Beetle Bailey” comic strip than real life, but lawmakers see a useless obsolete military plane as a tool to keep local voters happy.

A key cause of the dysfunctional budget wars is lawmakers’ refusals to follow the advice of Pentagon leaders on how to trim the military. Congress’ members are repeatedly overruling the military experts on ships, planes, retiree benefit plans and other suggested cuts. Another example, besides the C-5A Galaxy farce, is the fate of two Navy cruisers, the USS Vicksburg in Florida and the USS Anzio in Virginia. The military planned to retire these cruisers, but Congress said no. In total, Congress is basically forcing the Navy to maintain two amphibious warships and seven cruisers. The cost to taxpayers: a loss of $4.3 billion in savings over two years. Other aircraft military personnel kept alive by Congress over the military’s advice include C-130 cargo aircraft, 18 high-altitude Global Hawk drones and three B-1 bombers.

No one expects lawmakers to ignore their constituents’ pleas, but they ultimately should govern as leaders, not flaks. The C-5A Galaxy debacle, as well as other instances of congressionally generated military waste, underscores why we have such a significant budget mess.

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