Old Chestnuts Roasting Your Tax Dollars

Rolling Analysis, Omnibust 2020Old Chestnuts Roasting Your Tax Dollars... with apologies to the late, great Bing Crosby

National Security,  | Analysis
Dec 17, 2019  | 4 min read | Print Article

Each year, the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate prohibit the Pentagon from taking certain actions. They do this by withholding funds to implement a particular policy or expenditure.

Because of the annual nature of appropriations bills, these prohibitions must be put in the bills year after year after year – ad infinitum. That’s why we refer to them as “old chestnuts.”

Some of the things the Congress continues to prevent the Pentagon from buying (even if these actually cost more money) in the FY20 Defense Appropriations bill:

  • “Welded shipboard anchor and mooring chain 4 inches in diameter and under” unless it is manufactured in the United States from components substantially manufactured in the U.S.,
  • Carbon, alloy or armor steel plate unless it comes from the United States or Canada,
  • Ball and roller bearings other than those produced in the United States with U.S. contents,
  • Supercomputers not manufactured in the United States, (okay, we won’t quibble with this one…)
  • U.S. flags, unless they are made in the United States with U.S. materials and thread,
  • Certain components (propulsion equipment, shipboard cranes and spreaders for those cranes) for the Navy’s fleet oilers unless they are manufactured in the United States, and NEW THIS YEAR
  • Certain components (air circuit breakers, gyrocompasses, electronic navigation chart systems, steering controls, pumps, propulsion and machinery control systems, totally enclosed lifeboats, auxiliary equipment pumps, shipboard cranes, auxiliary chill water systems, and propulsion propellers) for the Navy’s new Frigate program (FFG(X).

And beyond keeping the Pentagon from buying things, they also can’t do certain things, like:

  • “…reduce or prepare to reduce the number of deployed and non-deployed strategic delivery vehicles and launchers…” this is a fancier, and easier to overlook, prohibition on reducing the number of ICBM silos. Another win for the so-called “missile caucus” and a loss for fiscal responsibility.
  • Reducing or disestablishing the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the Air Force (which just so happens to be in Mississippi; and Mississippi just so happens to have Republican members on both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.)

The prohibitions on purchasing items from outside the United States (with the exception of supercomputers) can’t be gussied up as national security concerns. U.S. flags made outside the U.S., or made within the U.S. with foreign cloth, thread, and grommets, will wave just as proudly over Pentagon installations. Let’s call it what it is: crony capitalism, protectionism, maybe even doing a favor for a major campaign contributor.

And keeping the Pentagon from making operational decisions like how many missile silos  and Weather Reconnaissance Squadrons to maintain is pure local politics.

With soaring deficits it only makes sense to allow the Pentagon to make the best deal on manufacturing purchases and set its own force structure. Congress should stopping putting its thumb on the scale for favored programs.