The Wall Street Journal’s “Weekend Interview” admiringly depicts Senator John McCain as a brave and maverick leader of the Republican Party.
Instead, author Stephen Moore inadvertently reveals why Senator McCain has not been more effective as a legislator and campaigner.
For starters, there is McCain’s misplaced obsession with “earmarks.” McCain describes these congressional appropriations for local projects as a “creeping disease” that is “killing our party.”
No, they’re not. To be sure, the Republicans’ inability and unwillingness to contain spending when they were in power has contributed mightily to the party’s demise. But McCain and other GOP legislators are going to have to cut a lot more than just earmarks – always an infinitesimal portion of the overall federal budget - if ever they are to manage and reform federal spending.
Problem is very few GOP legislators ─ and McCain is a prime example, unfortunately ─ are willing to get their hands dirty legislatively. McCain’s experience with the defense budget is a case in point. As an aviator and as a naval officer, Senator McCain was a great warrior; but unlike, say, former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, he simply doesn’t understand the intricacies of the defense budget. McCain relies heavily on his staff and outside “experts”─long-time Washington hands who reflect the center-left conventional wisdom.
That’s why McCain joined forces with President Obama to enact the most significant and far-reaching weapon systems cuts since the Carter administration 30 years ago. And that’s why he helped Obama and congressional Democrats to enact the mislabeled “Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009.”
In fact, this newly enacted law is the antithesis of reform. It imposes new regulatory straitjackets and bureaucratic decrees on private-sector industry, thereby stifling innovation and entrepreneurship in an already stultified acquisition system.
The oft-stated rationale for these new bureaucratic strictures is the charge by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that 96 leading weapon systems have experienced cumulative cost overruns of $296 billion and delays of two years on average. McCain and the media have robotically reported this charge ad infinitum, perhaps because they don’t know any better. But as former Pentagon acquisition chief John Young observed in a March 31, 2009 memorandum, “$296 billion is a sensational number that is misleading, out-of-date, and irrelevant to the current DoD procurement process.”
Young notes that 86 of the 96 programs have experienced an average cost growth of just 7.7 percent; and the preponderance of the cost growth is attributable to six programs that were started in or before 1996.
Moreover, the so-called cost overruns often involve the military’s more rapid purchase of more technologically advanced gear than it originally anticipated because of lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan.” That’s certainly the case with the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) modernization program, which grew in size because the Army sought to provide more modern gear to more troops sooner.
You’d never know this by reading the New York Times or even from listening to Congressional testimony. You’d only know this if you took the time to understand the defense budget and the military acquisition system; yet, that is something Republicans are loathe to do. The GOP thinks that winning elections and retaining power is a matter of smart politics, not wise and innovative public policy. They’re wrong.