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Military-spending truths

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Every now and then Washington slips up, and a little bit of truth accidentally slips out of the carefully calibrated PR machine designed to keep the public ignorant about what's really going on.

This happened just recently when the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before a U.S. Senate committee. To the surprise of the military brass, several Republican Senators suddenly hit them with rapid-fire accusations that they had been downplaying problems of troop shortages and aging weapons, leading to a drop in the "combat readiness" of American troops.

The New York Times reports that the five generals and admirals at the witness table were momentarily shellshocked by the barrage, but they quickly returned fire -- causing some truth to pop out.

The chiefs said they could have been putting billions more into troops and weapons if only the Congress would let them close unnecessary military bases and stop making them buy planes, ships and other expensive hardware that they haven't requested.

The military took aim at one especially wasteful chunk of congressional pork -- the purchase of 20 C-130 transport planes. The Air Force didn't want these planes, but Congress insisted -- or, more accurately, two members of Congress insisted. One was Newt Gingrich, the Loudspeaker of the House. The C-130s are built in Newt's home district, providing a nice government subsidy for his constituents (and for his re-election). The other was Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, who got government facilities and payroll for his state by requiring the Pentagon to base these transport planes in Mississippi. As an Air Force general pointedly told the senators at the hearing, "Not only were the planes added `to our budget`, but then we're told where to put them."

Republicans claim the Pentagon needs more money, but it already gets $271 billion a year. That should cover troops and weapons -- if only Congress quits rolling out the pork barrel.


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