Guns, Butter and 'Tea'

Guns, Butter and 'Tea'

Printer-friendly version

The ice-cream guru argues for low-fat defense spending.

a a
Type Size: Small

It’s good news that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is calling for defense spending cuts.
It’s better news that he’s got the support of Republican Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
But it is great news that the Tea Party rank and file is right there with them.
Tea Party hero Rand Paul calls for cutting the defense budget, saying “there’s an enormous amount of waste out there. And we need to make sure that when we define national defense, we don’t define all military spending as being toward national defense.”
Phillip Dennis, founder of the Dallas Tea Party and a member of the Board of Directors of the Leadership Tea Party, argues that Pentagon spending must be “constrained and reduced.”
And Mark Meckler, a national Tea Party coordinator, recently said, “I have yet to hear anyone say, ‘We can’t touch defense spending,’ or any other issue... Any tea partier who says something else lacks integrity.”
I haven’t enjoyed a tea party this much since my daughter was five.
Despite coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, tea partiers and progressives have a lot in common. Who doesn’t agree with calls for cutting government waste, fraud and abuse? In political activism, we are always focusing on our differences. So let’s focus on what we agree on.

We all agree that the biggest government bureaucracy, the Department of Defense, has been force fed congressional earmarks until it is so fat it is an insult to pigs to call it pork.

The F-35’s second engine will cost nearly $3 billion, and the Pentagon does not want it. Congress keeps allocating billions for new C-17 cargo planes against the Pentagon’s wishes.

When the Pentagon requested missile defense funds, a House Armed Service subcommittee tipped them an extra $400 million, including $50 million for the Airborne Laser, a Star Wars-type weapon strapped to a 747 that Secretary Gates canceled last year because it doesn’t work.

Procurement costs are unsustainable and too politically motivated. Budgeting is poorly thought through. The military’s antiquated, top-heavy hierarchy is out of all proportion.

We also all agree that there is an important difference between supporting the troops and attacking the bureaucracy that in Gates's words has become "a gusher of defense spending that nearly doubled the base budget over the last decade.”

As an advocate for defense budget cuts for over a decade, I have encountered time and again conservative opposition to even the mention of looking at defense cuts. But now I find myself in the unlikely position of being on the same side of the debate as a Republican secretary of Defense and a Republican grassroots movement.

If only other Republican leaders would follow their lead.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., claim they are allies of the Tea Party. But when it came to defense contracts, they both broke against the Tea Party and the Pentagon to vote in favor of procuring more F-22s – Cold War pork.
Two “heroes” of the Tea Party Express may also need to wean themselves from extra helpings of contracts that lard their own districts: Georgia's Tom Price is an F-22 booster and Indiana's Mike Pence is an F-35 second engine supporter. That’s a Rolls Royce engine by the way, and the Rolls Royce PAC contributed to Pence’s campaign.
I hope the tea party regulars will hold all these WHINOs (Waste Haters in Name Only) accountable. Yes, I will criticize Democrats for their votes to protect unneeded programs. And yes, once we secure the cuts to the defense budget, the Tea Partiers and I will inevitably disagree on how to use the savings… I will want to spend some of it on teachers and kids and other good things.

But we can work together to stop the waste.

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, called to work by Ron Paul and Barney Frank, recently released a list of almost $1 trillion worth of defense cuts. While their plan is sure to run into opposition, it is a very important step towards a new coalition for sanity – one that could feature the potent political combination of the secretary of Defense, the Tea Party, and the Democratic House majority leader.
I've got to congratulate the tea partiers. In their search for attacking waste, they have stumbled upon the area that is the biggest repository of fat in the federal government.

And I should know. Fat is my business.

Ben Cohen is a founder of Ben & Jerry’s and has been working for sensible defense policies for more than a decade, including founding Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities in 1998. He is also a founder of True Majority, where an animated version of him talking about desserts and the budget can be found.