Earlier this month, Congress put the screws to U.S. air travel, furloughing 13,000 air traffic controllers and closing 140 control towers at regional airports. This was fallout from sequestration, the $85 billion in mandated, across-the-board cuts to federal programs and services that went into effect March 1. The air-travel slowdown eased over the weekend after the Federal Aviation Adminstration lifted all employee furloughs and President Obama signaled that he would sign a bill giving the agency more spending flexibility.
But elsewhere in our nation's Alice-in-Wonderland capital the madness continued. Senior Army officials said "no thanks" to $436 million in congressional appropriations for the development and assembly of the Abrams tank, a dominating battlefield asset that the Army says it already has enough of.
Sorry, said Congress, take the money anyway. Production of the Abrams tank is vital to the city of Lima, Ohio, and elsewhere in the region. It means hundreds, even thousands of jobs on the production line and with the tank's many suppliers. But how do we take Congress' we-mean-business approach to deficit reduction seriously when the Pentagon is forced to gorge itself on programs it no longer wants or needs? How do we acquiesce to lawmakers' demands for austerity when essential services like air traffic control are compromised while the Abrams assembly line churns on?
The needs of Lima, Ohio, are nothing to discount. But the Abrams dilemma points to a larger issue: We're addicted to military spending that significantly exceeds the military's needs. Dwight Eisenhower warned us about this half a century ago and we have only become more addicted in the years since.
What can we do about it? Not nearly enough, but we can work toward augmenting those tank, aircraft and battlefield artillery assembly lines with other American job-creating innovations. In the meantime, it's tough to take Congress' calls for belt-tightening seriously when that belt-tightening doesn't apply to everyone -- including, apparently, even those who wouldn't mind tightening their belts.