After a bipartisan win for taxpayers last year, you’d think lawmakers would be happy to take a victory lap and let sleeping dogs lie. Or Vampires, or werewolves, or zombies.
Sadly, you’d be wrong.
One of the longest running, and least defensible, examples of Congress propping up an industry for reasons of hometown political favoritism is back.
The Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee approved a Pentagon spending bill this week that resurrects a zombie that Congress killed last year – a program forcing the shipment of a specific type of coal from Pennsylvania to Germany to heat a handful of military installations. Yep, common sense just flew out the window.
Last year we gave this decades-old program our “Golden Fleece” award. To sum up this farce: because of a now-deceased corrupt Congressman’s direction, for more than 50 years the U.S. military has been required to ship U.S. anthracite coal from Pennsylvania to Germany to heat a few of our military facilities. To keep this flow of coal going all those years, various lawmakers have also blocked any modernization of the heating plants at those facilities that would have allowed them to burn anything but coal. This provision was put into the Pentagon spending bill every year. And it required the shipment of this specific type of coal from the United States.
Shortly after our announcement of the Golden Fleece, Representatives Huffman (D-CA) and McClintock (R-CA) joined forces in an amendment to strip this requirement from the bill. The amendment to the Pentagon spending bill was successful, with a wide, bipartisan margin of the House of Representatives voting to end this wasteful, indefensible requirement. The vote to end the program was 252 in favor and 179 opposed.
The floor debate on the amendment showed some real common sense thinking on the part of the lawmakers who spoke against it.
Mr. Huffman had this to say, “The passage of this amendment would be proof positive, I think, to Americans back home that Republicans and Democrats can work together to cut wasteful spending.”
And from Mr. McClintock, “Just a few weeks ago, so-called defense hawks demanded spending well in excess of budget caps because, they said, our defense spending had been stretched to the breaking point. In light of those warnings, I find it inexcusable that these scarce defense dollars would be so recklessly squandered to continue to fund a corrupt earmark from a disgraced and deceased Pennsylvania Congressman, an earmark that dates back more than 40 years.”
It’s important to note that removing the requirement doesn’t mean the U.S. military can’t keep buying coal in the U.S. and shipping it across the Atlantic Ocean – they can do that if it’s the cheapest and most efficient approach to heating those installations – or if it suits their fancy or national security interests. But we’re betting it isn’t the cheapest, it isn’t the most efficient, it isn’t a national security priority, and the military will happily jettison the program unless Congress keeps forcing them to do it.
Unfortunately, lobbyists who have made their living keeping this provision in the Defense Appropriations bill, lo these many years, have spent the last nine months or so convincing old friends on the House Appropriations Committee to insert a slightly modified provision this year. And as Yogi Berra said, it’s déjà vu all over again.
“SEC. 8127. Using funds made available by this Act or any other Act, the Secretary of the Air Force, pursuant to a determination under section 2918 of title 10, United States Code, may implement cost-effective agreements for required heating facility modernization in the Kaiserslautern Military Community in the Federal Republic of Germany: Provided, That in the City of Kaiserslautern and at the Rhine Ordnance Barracks area, such agreements shall include the use of energy sourced domestically within the United States as the base load energy for municipal district heat to the United States Defense installations: Provided further, That at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center and Ramstein Air Base, furnished heat may be obtained from private, regional or municipal services, if provisions are included for the consideration of domestically sourced United States energy sources.”
A first reading of the new language makes it seem things have changed. For instance, modernization of the heating facilities may go forward. But keep reading. “Provided…such agreements shall include the use of energy sourced domestically within the United States…” Shall. No wiggle room for the Pentagon there. Whatever the heating source may be, it must come from the United States.
Proponents of this are arguing that if the language doesn’t require the coal come from the U.S., military officials will have to buy the coal from Russia. What a load of … Okay – this is absurd on its face. First, Germany exported 169,000 metric tons of anthracite coal in 2014 according to the German government’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources. Second, if that was actually the concern of the lobbyists pushing this provision, it could be easily solved. The provision could simply prohibit the Pentagon from buying Russian coal. Finally, as we said before, not including the provision means the Pentagon can purchase their energy source wherever they want, including the U.S.!
Several fiscal watchdogs concerned with good stewardship of taxpayer dollars signed a letter this week, asking the subcommittee to remove this provision. We hope the House of Representatives will, once again, kill the program. Sigh.
And, this time, we intend for that stake, or silver bullet, or hit to the zombie’s head to keep it dead.