On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Congress and the Pentagon to keep their eyes on the ball, namely the war we are fighting now, instead of the war we might face later, maybe.
It sounded rational and, perhaps, even seemed a sound reminder that the nation can't spend everything it might want to spend on the military.
Gates' message was heard loud and clear on the Hill. Today, the top defense appropriator -- read money man -- in the House of Representatives boldly stepped in front of the nation (also known as the floor of the House) and said Gates' speech was "simply a rationalization of short-term budget decisions made in the waning months of this Administration. Now when Rep. John Murtha, (D-Penn.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, says something like this, you can bet he has a larger point to deliver. And he did. Murtha said the administration is effectively waging a war without a strategy to guide it.
"We need a National Security Strategy to identify both the near-term and long-term threats to this country. We need a vigorous debate to achieve this strategy -- this hasn't happened since the Cold War," Murtha said. Then he sent a zinger that must have sent some shock waves through intelligence community budgeters: "This country spends more money on intelligence than all the nations of the world combined, and as I've observed our intelligence is about as accurate as Punxsutawney Phil -- 50 percent. 50 percent is unacceptable." Perhaps Murtha has his eyes set on at least one major cut to an IC program.
But in the longer term, Murtha said, "It is time to look beyond Iraq and focus on future threats." To that end, he claimed the emergency supplemental spending bill being introduced on the House floor "provides our military with equipment that will prepare them to face future threats under any scenario; not only to fight a war, but to prevent a war." Then he listed some of the bigger ticket items in the supplemental, including:
$3.6 billion to procure 15 C-17 aircraft$2.5 billion to procure 34 C-130 aircraft$750 million for National Guard and Reserve equipment$1.5 billion for Humvees$3 billion for Medium and Heavy Tactical Trucks$500 million for Army and Marine Corps Facility Maintenance and Repairs (including the barracks that need repairs)$300 million for facility maintenance and repairs at military medical facilities$570 million for treatment and research activities within the Defense Health Program.
-- Colin Clark