Life after death for the ‘missile to nowhere’
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., gestures as she speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Friday, March 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
In the pre-dawn hours of Saturday morning, the Senate voted 94-5 in favor of an amendment I introduced to the nonbinding budget resolution that aims to eliminate funding for a weapons system the Pentagon has said will never reach the battlefield.
But the Defense Department will still receive $381 million for the program, thanks to a gift Senate appropriators wrapped into a catch-all “continuing resolution” spending package that Congress passed earlier in the week. My repeated attempts to strip funding from the bill for the Medium Extended Air Defense System were blocked – proving once again that anything, no matter how wasteful it is, can find powerful backers in Congress.
Two years ago, the Defense Department announced that it was scrapping MEADS, which failed to become the nation’s next generation air defense system. After Congress spent almost $3 billion for what I call the “missile to nowhere,” I worked to successfully pass a bipartisan amendment to last year’s annual defense bill prohibiting funding for the program.
You’d think that would be enough to turn off the spigot. But MEADS continues to enjoy an afterlife – receiving more money even though it has been declared dead.
Last week, during debate on the continuing resolution, I went to the floor several times seeking a simple vote on a bipartisan amendment I introduced that would eliminate funding for this failed weapon system and use it instead to support our servicemen and women. With the Pentagon facing deep sequestration cuts, I noted that it was especially ridiculous to fund a program that even the Army has said it won’t procure and that the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman – a Democrat – has called “a waste of money.”
My requests for a vote were denied – blocked by senators whose states benefit from the money spent on the weapons system, even though our troops will never use it.
I wasn’t the only one to have an amendment fall victim to back-room politics. Several of my colleagues saw their germane amendments, introduced well in advance of last week’s debate, suffer the same fate – depriving them of the only opportunity to improve a massive $1 trillion spending bill that funds government through September.
It’s frustrating enough that the Senate has failed in recent years to pass the budget and appropriations bills on time. But preventing members of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” from debating and voting on straightforward amendments, especially those that are certain to pass, is a problem that goes beyond partisanship. It’s raw politics. And it’s what has the American people rightfully upset at Washington. As our debt continues to climb, members of Congress must work together to prevent the fiscal meltdown that we all can see coming. Inevitably, that will require tough decisions – on reducing spending, preserving our entitlement programs, and reforming our broken tax code. It also means that members of both parties will have to give up the time-honored congressional tradition of protecting their narrow parochial interests.
Scrapping funding for the “missile to nowhere” would be an easy place to start.
(Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Budget Committee.)