While everyone blames our superhawk president and his conservative allies for America’s runaway defense budgets, the sorry little secret is that liberals like to build weapons, too. In fact, if the leading doves in Congress wanted to declare war, they could deploy a mighty army, equipped entirely with their own favorite engines of destruction.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, for instance, might lead the attack with his marvelous M-1 tank, the one that gets stuck in mud, needs repairs every forty-three miles and costs the taxpayers $2.5 million apiece. Levin’s devotion to the tank presumably is unrelated to the fact that it is manufactured in Warren, Michigan.
Meanwhile, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, leader of the nuclear-freeze campaign, could deploy his own favorite air defense system, the Patriot missile. Kennedy stood by the Patriot even when tests proved its accuracy to be notoriously unreliable. Perhaps he believes in this surface-to-air missile because it is built by his constituents at the Raytheon plant on Route 128 outside Boston.
Representative Tom Downey of New York, another eloquent voice for rational defense spending, could fly air support in the Navy’s F-14, a $35 million carrier fighter crafted at the Grumman plant in Bethpage, Long Island, where many of Downey’s constituents work. When Grumman contracts are at stake, a dove like Downey can be as zealous as a hawk.
Senator Alan Cranston of California, the former presidential candidate who made peace his single issue, surely would bomb the bejesus out of the enemy with the B-1 bomber, manufactured in Southern California by Rockwell. Flying copilot would be Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio, a savage critic of the Pentagon who, nevertheless, takes a dive when the B-1 comes up for a roll call. Key elements of the bomber are made in Cincinnati and Columbus. At the same time, Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas might be on the ground spraying the battlefield with nerve gas. This hideous stuff is concocted by native Arkansans in Pine Bluff.
Tanks that only work on paved roads, missiles that don’t shoot straight, bombers that aren’t needed to defend the country–these are some of the weapons systems embraced, promoted and protected by men and women in Congress who are identified as defense critics. For the most part, all of them struggle earnestly to rein in the Pentagon and its greed-crazed contractors, and their voting records put them consistently on the side of sanity–for arms control, for smaller military budgets.
Unless, of course, the issue is hometown jobs. Then they go in for the same political dealing normally associated with conservative hawks, lobbying and logrolling to keep favorite weapons funded and constituents working in defense plants.
I am not picking on these liberals merely to expose hypocrisy, though the hypocrisy is rich enough. My point is this: the entire political system, including liberals as well as conservatives, is held hostage by the politics of defense spending. Even the most well intentioned are captive to it. And this is a fundamental reason why the Pentagon budget is irrationally bloated and why America is mobilizing for war in a time of peace.
“It’s a fact of life,” said one arms-control lobbyist. “I don’t see how you can ask members of Congress to vote against their own districts. If I were a member of Congress, I might vote that way, too.”
If you think of Pentagon procurement not as national security but as the federal government’s most savory pork barrel, you will begin to grasp why senators and representatives, no matter what their political stripe, compete so zealously to bring home the bacon.
You will also understand Senator Levin’s contradictory actions. Levin is a smart, hard-working member of the Armed Services Committee who understands the intricacies of the Pentagon budget and whose sensibilities have led him to oppose the nuclear-arms buildup. Last year, he scored 100 percent on the arms-control index compiled by the Council for a Livable World. The M-1 tank, however, makes Levin sound a little Prussian.
Every year, he lobbies his colleagues to increase the order for tanks from Michigan–even more tanks than President Reagan has requested. This year, the army cut its order to 600 new tanks, but Levin won authorization for 720. He’s still fighting for 840. That adds up to a lot of extra bucks for General Dynamics and the workers back home.
Senator Kennedy took the lead this year on a more homely national defense issue–lobbying the navy to make Boston the home port for the Iowa battleship group. With five or six ships plus logistical staff and overhauling facilities, the basing of a major naval group would mean millions of dollars in new payroll. Kennedy organized a round-robin letter signed by the Massachusetts delegation and personally made the pitch to Secretary of the Navy John Lehman.
There was only one problem: some of the active peace groups in Kennedy’s home state thought it bizarre that the leading advocate of a nuclear-weapons freeze would be pushing to locate ships armed with nukes in Boston harbor. Kennedy limply answered that as long as there had to be a navy, it might as well do business in Boston.
So it was not for want of trying that Boston lost the Iowa battleship group to New York. But thanks to heavy pressure from another liberal who has more clout with the Pentagon, Representative Joe Addabbo of New York, the Iowa will be based on Staten Island.
Addabbo, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on defense, plays a heavy hand on many defense questions, from keeping the production of the A-10 attack plane alive for Fairchild Industries (though the military services didn’t want any more) to pushing the army to base its new infantry division at Fort Drum, New York. Some congressional defense analysts figured all along that the navy was just toying with Boston on the fight over the Iowa–and that it enjoyed the spectacle of Kennedy’s lobbying for Pentagon favors.
Massachusetts lost the Iowa, but it won another victory this year that may deliver more dollars and jobs. Though it’s not clear what Kennedy contributed to the decision, the senator sent out a press release this spring, announcing, with pride, that the air force would henceforth adopt “dual sourcing” for procurement of engines for the F-16 fighter plane. In plain language, this means that the General Electric plant in Lynn will get to share the business with Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford, Connecticut, which used to have a production monopoly. The competition is supposed to promote efficiency and lower costs. “A confluence of good management and good politics,” a Kennedy defense aide boasted.
The principle of competition was abandoned by the Massachusetts delegation, however, when the issue of dual sourcing of turbine engines for the M-1 tank was raised. All of them are now built at the AVCO Lycoming plant in Stratford, Connecticut, but another company in Arizona wanted a share. Led by Representative Nick Mavroules, the Massachusetts delegation lined up solidly against dual sourcing and helped defeat it. When they aren’t competing with one another for defense contracts, the New England state delegations stick together.
The underlying politics of defense procurement, as every major contractor understands, is no different from that of other big-ticket items in the federal pork barrel, like dams, post offices and highways. Despite all the wasted dollars and concrete poured into many of these projects, they survive congressional scrutiny year after year because everyone knows the rules of the game: if you vote against my district’s boondoggle, I’ll vote against yours.