Deficit-Fighting Congress Will Spend Millions on Unwanted Army Tanks

The US Army is kind of over the M-1 Abrams tank. At more than $7 million a pop, there's not much call for the heavy gas-guzzlers on modern battlefields. But some of the most conservative self-styled deficit hawks on Capitol Hill refuse to do away with their treaded gravy train.

The military has said thanks but no thanks to more tanks; their current fleet is large and new, and in search of a mission, as they're more useful for open-field battles with the Soviet army than for distributing goodwill to Afghan villages. Yet Congress has appropriated $436 million to keep production rolling, NPR reports:

If there's a home of the Abrams, it's politically important Ohio. The nation's only tank plant is in Lima. So it's no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol's Hill most prominent deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown...

Federal budgets are always peppered with money for pet projects. What sets the Abrams example apart is the certainty of the Army's position. Sean Kennedy, director of research for the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste, said Congress should listen when one of the military services says no to more equipment.

"When an institution as risk averse as the Defense Department says they have enough tanks, we can probably believe them," Kennedy said.

This is nothing new, sadly: In 2011, the Army tried to stop a $1.2 billion order of new Humvees so they could use the money for a more pressing need: bomb and rocket-detection systems on US bases in Afghanistan. Humvees had already outlived their usefulness, amounting to little more than under-protected, custom-made coffins for soldiers rolling over IEDs. But rocket attacks on troops are commonplace, and the purely defensive detection systems could have cut down on casualties.

But a single conservative congressman, who took in more than $80,000 in campaign contributions from the maker of the Humvee, put the brakes on the entire plan.

Then, as now, pork-belly champions in Congress argued that it would cost more to stop production and start it up again at some undesignated future time, you know, when we need more trucks and tanks to defeat the Kaiser.

And in the meantime, these onetime deficit hawks say, think about the poor workers with no tanks to make! "People can't sit around for three years on unemployment insurance and wait for the government to come back," said Portman—who at one point was a serious candidate to join Mitt Romney on the GOP ticket last year.

That's right: You can't expect workers to live on government welfare while waiting for the government to continue its welfare to defense-firm CEOs. Nor can you expect deficit hawks to give a damn about real spending. But you can expect more M1s rolling out of a warehouse in suburban Ohio, in search of a berm to breach.

[Image via AP]