April 13, 2005 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense

Sorting Out the Supplemental: Congress Must Cut and Paste to Get It Right

Supplemental appropriations are the equivalent of a political vacuum cleaner. They tend to suck up things you want, things you don't want, and occasionally miss things that they ought to get. This is the case with the 2005 supplemental request for additional funding to cover the cost of ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and Tsunami relief. While the passage of the bill is essential, Congress has some work to do before it goes to the President.

 

Take out the Scissors

There are some additions to the appropriations bill that need to be cut. Among them is a proposal by Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to force the Navy to build its DD-X destroyers in two shipyards. The U.S. government held an open competition to build the ships and concluded that the best option for both the ships and the nation is to limit the construction to one yard. Changing this will increase the cost of the total purchase by up to $3 billion.

 

This misguided attempt to artificially protect America's shipbuilding industry is not good for America's shipbuilders or for national security. It would essentially reward the losing contractor, allowing it to perpetuate the practices that led to its losing the competition in the first place. Instead of discouraging competition and dictating industrial policy, Congress should identify and address the underlying problems that have put America's shipbuilders at a disadvantage in the first place. Open competition forces manufacturers to refine production methods and processes, cut waste, and innovate. This competitive approach increases the likelihood that industry will be prepared to deliver the kind of ships the Navy needs, when it needs them, in the future. Protectionism does the opposite.

 

Get Out the Glue

While it is usually more prudent to focus on trimming wasteful add-on spending like Member's extraneous pork-barrel projects and narrow mandates that serve special interests, occasionally there is an issue that, while not germane to the appropriation, ought to be addressed. The standard for such issues should be high. They must be issues of national significance.

 

There is just one issue that is so important that it ought to be included this time around. That is the issue of federal standards for state-issued identity cards used for federal purposes-for example, driver's licenses presented before boarding domestic commercial flights.In the waning days of the 108th Congress, the House and Senate were deadlocked over legislation designed to reform the national intelligence commu­nity. In the end, the intelligence reform bill passed without the anti-terrorism identity card measure championed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensen­brenner (R-WI) but with the promise that his propos­als would be considered early in the 109th Congress. The supplemental is a chance to get this done. The House has included a provision to this end in its bill. The Senate has not. That is a mistake. A provision similar to the one described by Paul Rosenzweig and James Jay Carafano in Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1821, "Federal Standards for State-Issued Identity Cards: A Reasonable Proposal," would be a good compromise.

 

Think Again

Before Congress rushes to pass the supplemental it should wipe off the layers of fiscal waste, government protectionism, and special-interest giveaways that are usually used to grease passage. At the same time, Congress should be sure to address national security, foreign policy, and domestic issues of real national importance.

 

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security, and Jack Spencer is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security, in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity