Why the War Party is the real winner of the midterms
Despite an underwhelming performance in the midterm elections, Republicans appear poised to take back the House for the first time since 2016. The shift has the potential to impact a wide range of policies and will undoubtedly lead to a series of hearings on everything from the Afghanistan withdrawal to Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
But when it comes to defense spending, there’s little reason to think that GOP leaders will rock the boat.
To understand why, one just has to take a quick look at two of the most influential defense policy roles in the House: the heads of the committees that oversee spending and the armed services. The Republicans who are expected to take on these roles next year both have strong incentives to keep Pentagon spending high.
Take Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who will likely succeed Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) as the chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Rogers has been a leading proponent of a push to increase defense spending purportedly because of historically high inflation rates, despite the Pentagon’s insistence that its own budget request had already taken the economic climate into account.
He’s also received over $400,000 from arms makers this cycle, making him the single largest recipient of defense industry campaign donations in the 2022 cycle, according to Open Secrets. And Rogers’ district contains parts of Calhoun and Talladega counties, which together got over $200 million in defense money last year.
Of course, Rogers is only slightly more hawkish than his Democratic predecessor, who banked more than $300,000 from defense primes this year and happens to hail from a district that got $8.5 billion in defense spending in 2021. But the difference could be a bit bigger when it comes to the Appropriations Committee, which is currently led by self-described progressive Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).
Despite having relatively little defense money go to her district, DeLauro has long been a champion of keeping military funding high. As her website makes clear, her main foreign policy priority is guaranteeing that defense spending keeps flowing to her home state, even if that means continuing to fund controversial, expensive programs like the F-35.
“Rosa has always supported defense programs that maintain jobs in Connecticut, including the Black Hawk, Marine One Presidential, Combat Rescue and CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter programs, as well as the procurement of engines for the C-17, F-22, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and other aircraft,” her site explains. “Rosa [has] been an advocate for the Joint Strike Fighter primary engine, with testing and assembly of that engine taking place in Middletown, and played a lead role in terminating the alternate engine program.”
Her most likely successor is Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas). Granger is a vocal supporter of the F-35 and the notoriously dangerous V-22 Osprey, which she says “are integral to our national security and play a vital role in our military’s offensive and defensive strategies.” Her campaign also raked in over $200,000 from defense companies, and her district contains parts of Tarrant County, which received more than $12 billion in military spending last year.
In total, 15 of the top 16 recipients of defense industry campaign funds in the House are members of one or both of these two committees. The only exception to that rule is Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is the odds-on favorite to take over as majority whip in the new Congress.
And those campaign investments are just the tip of the iceberg. According to Open Secrets, defense contractors have already spent more than $100 million on lobbying efforts in just the first three quarters of 2022, and that number will only continue to rise as arms makers make their final push to increase next year’s defense budget.
Unfortunately for the public, there is a significant risk that it will be locked out of debates over the impacts of those investments. As Bloomberg recently reported, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have begun negotiating behind closed doors on next year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which “could be taken up in the House and Senate without amendments.”
In other words, lawmakers are set to scrap the defense authorization bill that the HASC already debated, amended, and managed to pass through the House in favor of one that has never been subject to public scrutiny — the same thing that happened with last year’s NDAA.
Given the sheer size of defense policy bills, watchdogs will be hard-pressed to sift through the next one for potentially wasteful line items before it becomes law. But maybe that’s the point.