Defense analyst William Hartung says the biggest winner will be Lockheed Martin, the builder of the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken by the Pentagon.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. If the House Republicans have their way, Boeing, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin would be the big winners of last week’s annual defense policy bill. The National Defense Authorization Act, which usually gets through easily in this era of war and national security fear with bipartisan support was approved in a closer than usual vote of 269 to 251 after Democratic party members decided to support the White House in opposing the measure. The close vote will give President Obama veto power. Now joining me to discuss the latest development on this is William Hartung. William is joining us from New York. He is a senior advisor with Security Assistance Monitor and the director of Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He’s also the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Bill, thank you so much for joining us. WILLIAM HARTUNG, SENIOR ADVISOR, SECURITY ASSISTANCE MONITOR: Yes, thanks for having me. PERIES: So Bill, explain to us what actually happened last week. HARTUNG: Well, there were two battles going on. One was over how to fund the Pentagon. And basically because of a bill a few years ago there’s a cap on the Pentagon’s regular budget. So what they do is they put billions and billions of dollars into the war budget that have nothing to do with the war. They’re just pet projects that the Pentagon needs to–or wants to, rather, spend money on. So this year the Congress went really through the roof, and they added $40 billion to that war fund that doesn’t belong there. And President Obama was against this, not necessarily because he doesn’t want more money for the Pentagon but because he wants to lift those budget caps and fund it directly in the Pentagon budget. They’re kind of battling really over how to give the Pentagon more money, not whether to. But in the meantime, there were some interesting provisions within there. For example, a whole new set of proposals about how to buy weapons, many of which were actually crafted and written by the defense industry. PERIES: Now, this is one that seems palatable. Giving more money to the military seems like a good thing to do, and sort of national patriotism kicks in with images of soldiers and so on. But hidden in this is really some big money for the defense industry. Lay out, if this bill passes, through I guess if President Obama actually signs it into law, what is it exactly they will get out of it. HARTUNG: Well, the biggest winners will be Lockheed Martin, which builds the F-35. The most expensive weapons program the Pentagon’s ever undertaken. And they’ve been ramping up that program, they’ll probably get $10 billion or more if this bill goes through. Boeing, which builds a rival fighter plane, managed to get about a dozen of those added to the budget even though the Pentagon didn’t even ask for them, so they’d be kind of a secondary winner. Then there’s all kinds of money for new ships, for companies like Huntington Ingalls. And basically there’s a surge of procurement, much of which has little to do with supporting troops in current wars. It has a lot to do with kind of bailing out defense contractors, or an outmoded strategy that assumes somehow that the United States should be able to police the entire globe all at once. PERIES: Now, earlier you said that President Obama is not in favor of this. Why so? HARTUNG: Well, he would like to get the Pentagon money directly. So he would lift those budget caps, and instead of putting the money in the war budget, he would put it directly in the Pentagon’s base budget. So it’s really–you know, on one level it’s just kind of budgetary maneuvers. On another level if he could get those caps lifted then the Pentagon budget could go up year after year after year without any impediments. Whereas the way the House wants to fund it, every year they’d have to go back and fight for that additional money for the Pentagon. So it’s, this would be in a way a better deal for the Pentagon. But it’s harder to achieve, politically. PERIES: And there is a reference you made to the watchdog role that an agency plays within this system. Tell us more about that, and what is that watchdog role? HARTUNG: Well, there’s an agency within the Pentagon, an independent testing office, which looks at weapons systems, their technical features, how much they cost, are they really performing as advertised. And they’ve played a useful role in slowing down programs that have cost overruns, that don’t really work, so that the Pentagon doesn’t buy hundreds or thousands of them before they are ready. So it’s, they’re really looking at money and performance rather than, you know, whether we need them in terms of strategy. But nonetheless they’ve been very useful and they’ve been very helpful to Congress. So this bill in the House basically hamstrings that independent testing office. It says, well, you know, if you do the tests it can’t slow down programs too much, and it can’t delay their schedule such that they might have to spend more money later. But of course you have to have some delay if you’re going to do the testing. And if you do the testing and find out the weapon doesn’t work, then there’s no reason to rush ahead and spend money on it. So they’ve kind of injected these–contrary to, sort of contradictory impulses or requirements on this office, which means it might be harder for it to do its job as an independent entity. PERIES: William, this seems like in a state of fear we keep building up our military weaponry and capabilities. Meanwhile, the country’s suffering from lack of investment in our infrastructure. Which, for example, last week the Amtrak derailment, and the House decided to also cut the Amtrak budget. Now, if we were to, in your opinion who follows this issue extensively, what better ways are there to spend that kind of money? HARTUNG: Well I mean, it’s such a huge sum. You know, the Pentagon gets half a trillion dollars off the bat, and then another $50-90 billion in the war fund, and all kinds of other war-related expenditures. So even a small amount of that money, 5 or 10 percent, could be a huge benefit. I mean, certainly it would be more than enough to deal with Amtrak’s problems, to begin building some affordable housing again, to think about training more teachers. So all manner of things that have been neglected for many years, we could get a start on investing in them again. PERIES: And just after the 2008 crisis, it was acceptable to reduce the military budget to some extent. Has that possibility gone out the window? HARTUNG: There’s still a chance of at least level or declining Pentagon budgets. But it’ll really be about whether there’s gridlock between President Obama and the Congress. If they can’t figure out a way to lift those caps, and he doesn’t let them maneuver to evade the caps, they may end up with a budget that’s a little lower. But that’s not what they’re trying to do, because they’re arguing that with ISIS and the Ukraine, and other issues around the world, this is not the time to reduce the Pentagon budget. But of course if you look at the budget the war on ISIS consumes about only 2 percent of the resources the Pentagon has available. So to justify these huge budgets based on that is really kind of bait and switch. PERIES: William Hartung, thank you so much for joining us today. HARTUNG: Yes, thank you for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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