The members of the so-called supercommittee – the group of six Republicans and six Democrats tasked with producing a deficit-cutting plan – represent states where the biggest military contractors build missiles, aircraft, jet fighters and tanks while employing tens of thousands of workers. This conflict of interest makes serious cuts to defense budgets increasingly unlikely.
The panel has until Thanksgiving to come up with recommendations. If it deadlocks or if Congress rejects its proposal, $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts kick in. Up to $500 billion would hit the Pentagon. If it comes up with enough viable cuts to any part of the federal budget, defense could be spared that amount of cuts.
It has long been the business strategy of the biggest corporations in the military-industrial complex — Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co. and Boeing Co. — to spread their manufacturing and contracting employment base across as many states and localities as possible so as to make budget cuts a political liability for numerous members of Congress. In a recession with high unemployment, the aversion to placing defense corporations on the chopping block is even more potent, and this group of 12 committee members is particularly susceptible to such pressures.
For committee members such as Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), and John Kerry (D-MA), the incentive to leave these defense contractors untouched is amplified. Some 30,000 Boeing employees are working in Everett, Washington on giant airborne refueling tankers for the Air Force. In Amarillo, Texas, 1,100 Bell Helicopter Textron workers assemble the fuselage, wings, engines and transmissions for the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. For Kerry, Massachusetts was fifth in the nation with $8.37 billion in defense contracts this year.
Campaign contributions are also part of the equation. For example, Boeing was fourth on the list of donors to Patty Murray from 2007-2012, contributing $102,610 in all. Senator Pat Toomey admitted the conflict of interest last week when pressed about the impact on Pennsylvania’s defense industry. He said, “I think we all have very good reasons to try to prevent” the automatic cuts.
Contributions and domestic unemployment are not the end of it though, as the revolving door between the Pentagon and the private sector as well as former defense industry lobbyists within the Obama administration add even more pressure against deep cuts to defense budgets.
The various numbers being mentioned as possible cuts to the budget, though characterized as overly drastic, are actually meager when put into context, barely making a dent in the actual capacities of the military or Pentagon. Still, given the pressures these select dozen committee members face, the final proposal is likely to be very minor.