JOHNSON: If Congress Wants Public Trust, It Should Begin By Following Its Own Laws

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Ben Johnson U.S. Bureau Chief, LifeSiteNews.com
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The American people are losing trust in both parties. Republicans seem bolstered by news that President Joe Biden’s approval rating has cratered to a new low of 35% in the latest Pew Research poll. Democrats seem buoyant that the same poll shows slightly fewer Americans approve of Republican congressional leadership. And Gallup found three times as many people have confidence in the presidency than in Congress.

Despite this diminished trust, both parties seem poised to make it worse by trying to circumvent the debt ceiling deal. The package grudgingly approved by both sides limits military spending to President Biden’s requested level of $886 billion. Yet before the agreement even passed the Senate, congressmen on both sides of the aisle began floating ways to bust the caps.

To secure passage, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) declared the agreement “does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds.” Such bills give congressional leaders of both parties, and the president, authority to spend more money than allowed by the purported limits. “A strong bipartisan majority of senators stands ready to receive and process emergency funding requests from the administration,” Schumer noted.

The Biden administration supports classifying aid to Ukraine as an emergency supplemental expenditure, creating funding for the war in a similar way Congress evaded budget constraints for previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressional Republicans hope to pack the emergency supplemental with $16 billion of favored projects left unfunded by debt ceiling legislation. “I’d like to be spending more on defense, and believe with emergency supplemental we’ll be able to do that,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

The history of government breaking its commitments to fiscal responsibility stretch from the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act in 1985, through attempts to “nullify” the 2011 budget deal, to the present day. But if Congress wants to rebuild public trust, it can begin by following the laws it passes and — instead of breaking legislative spending limits — reallocate money by tightening its belt.

Many Republicans who support the idea of aiding Ukraine want the spending offset. Defense hawks have many steps they could take to save money.  The easy lift is insisting on tighter oversight of DoD projects, which racked up $2 billion in improper payments last year and spent $250 million to train just 60 Syrian rebels. It was likewise widely reported that the Pentagon made a $6 billion accounting error, because the cost of arms sent to Ukraine were overvalued. Only federal bureaucrats could get away with a multi-billon-dollar accounting mistake and keep their jobs. Clearly, there is a need for better accountability.

Second, they can eliminate the costly F-35 program. Conceived as a next-level stealth plane, the F-35 continues to evade detection a full 22 years after Lockheed Martin initiated development, and more than a decade after it was scheduled for delivery. The project is already $183 billion over budget — more than $9 billion annually since the program’s beginning, with no end in sight. If two decades of military service earns retirement, surely two decades of nonfeasance should merit dismissal. This is a program that may cost the taxpayer $1.7 trillion over the lifetime of the program on planes that don’t work.

Finally, they can cashier a costly attempt to introduce a new refueling craft, the A-330, in place of the existing KC-46. Ironically, the A-330 — which French Airbus has partnered, once again, with Lockheed Martin, to modify and build domestically — would add to the military’s fuel woes, as it burns 1,000 gallons more fuel per hour than the KC-46. Sticking with what works would also save untold hours of training time and prevent the costs likely associated with transforming the civilian A-330 into a military-ready aircraft.

With such diminished trust, the parties need to do better when it comes to spending taxpayer cash. Providing for the national defense is an enumerated power in the Constitution, yet it is not a license for the Pentagon to avoid making tough decisions when it comes to inefficient programs and outright waste.

These are just a few of many steps  congressional leaders should require the Pentagon, and other agencies, to take. They will not be enough to balance the budget or restore public trust, but they may at least avoid deepening America’s worst deficit: the trust deficit.

Ben Johnson (@therightswriter) is senior editor and reporter at WashingtonStand.com. His views are his own.