Tank Purchase Shows Uselessness of the Sequester

An Abrams tank, which the Pentagon doesn't want, but Congress insists on buying. (AP Photo)On March 18, 22 Abrams Main Battle Tanks were loaded on a ship in Bremerhaven, Germany, to be shipped home to Charleston, S.C. For the first time since D-Day, June 6, 1944, there were no U.S. Army tanks in continental Europe.

“This symbolizes a change in war fighting methodology,” said Ingrid Boger, public affairs officer of the Theater Logistics Support Center-Europe. “This is the end of a long tradition and history of having tanks in Germany.”

The Abrams tank was initially designed to help stop Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces from sweeping across central Europe if the Cold War ever turned hot. It served us well in both Iraq wars.

Since Robert Gates’ tenure as Secretary of Defense, leadership in that department and in our military services has argued that our national security mission has changed since the end of the Cold War. The new types of wars we are likely to encounter won’t require tanks. We need to divert spending into fighting terrorist networks and building adequate defenses against cyberwarfare.

The army has repeatedly said it doesn’t want or need new tanks. As Sean Kennedy, director of research for the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste, says, “When an institution as risk-averse as the Defense Department says they have enough tanks, we can probably believe them.”

Given the need to reduce spending, stopping production of the Abrams tank should be a no-brainer, right?

No, Congress has just voted to spend an extra $436 million to continue production. The Army doesn’t want them, but politically important Ohio, where 700 people work in the only Abrams tank plant, is represented by senators and representatives who do.

I wrote earlier this year, “The mindless across-the-board cuts in the sequestration might force members of Congress to look beyond defending the military pork in their states and districts.”

Boy, was I wrong. Far too many members of Congress feel perfectly comfortable calling for budget austerity and a sequester while at the same time insisting on producing obsolete weapons systems.

Ah, the sequester. It was so stupid an idea that of course it would never be allowed to happen, most of us thought. And then it happened.

I have seen across-the-board cuts to deal with budget problems in both the public and private sectors. They always represent the worst kind of mindless abdication of management responsibility. And they always end up making managers look silly.

That certainly happened in the recent decision by Congress and the president to fix just one of the consequences of the sequester – the inconvenience of flight delays caused by the mandatory furloughing of air traffic control personnel.

I fly a lot and other people who do were upset at the mounting delays. But most of them I have talked to are appalled that so many members of Congress who agreed to the sequester and bragged about holding tough on the cuts decided that frequent fliers were most in need of special relief.

Not the 4-year-olds kicked out of Head Start program.

Not the cancer patients denied chemotherapy.

No, once again the middle class and the poor just don’t have loud enough voices to have much influence.

Just about everyone I talk to thinks ending the sequester flight delays was done because of the inconvenience to members of Congress flying back and forth to their districts.

I guess that’s true to some small degree, but the real reason they caved was because frequent fliers tend to be their most influential, vocal, and politically connected constituents.

Being in Congress means making a lot of politically tough choices, and most of the toughest revolve around spending and taxes.

There is no mechanical solution for our budget problems. Beware of those who call for sequestration or balance-the-budget constitutional amendments.

To really balance the budget, we must do what the president and the Congress did in the late 1990s. Put everything on the table – including the politically difficult choices like the Abrams tank – and figure out how to increase government revenues and decrease government expenses.

For the first time in years, we have budgets from both houses of Congress and the president. It is time to end the sequester as part of the hard negotiations needed to reconcile those documents.

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