2012 Defense Earmarks: The Rest of the Story – Abrams Tank Upgrade

David Williams

January 9, 2012

Last month the House and Senate approved (and President Obama signed) a $1 trillion spending bill that included $3 billion worth of earmarks in the Defense section of the bill.  Looking through the list (read full list of earmarks here), the projects may not seem too controversial or look like the next Bridge to Nowhere.  The truth is that each earmark has a story.  The first earmark listed is $255,000,000 for the Abrams Tank Upgrade Program and has a story to tell.

The biggest mystery of the earmarks added to the Pentagon’s spending bill were the members of Congress who requested them.  Congress passed transparency legislation in 2007 (that went into effect in 2008) that required members to put their names next to earmarks.  This worked reasonably well for a couple years and then Congress decided to ban the process of earmarking all together by agreeing to a moratorium on all earmarks.  Even the most naïve Congressional observer didn’t believe that Congress would give up their earmarks so quickly.  Back to the 2012 Defense Department spending bill.  Congress voted on the $1 trillion Omnibus Bill even though a list of earmarks was not released.   The Taxpayers Protection Alliance found 89 earmarks worth $3 billion but nobody took credit for any of them.

The Abrams tank is a great example of how the culture of earmarking hasn’t changed.  Even though the sponsors didn’t identify themselves, according to the Daily Tribune, “’This is an important victory for Michigan and the nation,’ said U.S. Rep. Sander Levin [D-Mich.], who led the fight in the House to maintain funding for the tank program…Advocates in Congress, including Levin and Rep. Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican, urged the House Appropriations Committee to include additional funding to keep tank production going,…”  Great, now we know who requested the funding.  They should have put their names next to the project to begin with.  Rep. Rogers has always been a proponent of earmarks but Rep. Levin is a more blatant hypocrite.  In a 2008 press release Rep. Levin asserted that, “On the first day of the 110th Congress, the New Majority in the House adopted rules that require Members requesting an earmark to disclose in writing the name and address of the intended recipient and the purpose of the earmark, and certify the Member (and his or her spouse) has no financial interest in the request.  Rep. Levin is voluntarily publishing all of his requests to provide an additional layer of transparency.”  Oops!  As we all know, talk is cheap and actions are expensive to taxpayers.

Further research also confirms that the Pentagon does not want to fund the tank program.  According to the same Daily Tribune article referenced above, “The Pentagon had proposed halting tank production for five years in 2013 as a cost-saving measure.”  So, we have a $255 million earmark for a program that the Pentagon doesn’t want and members of Congress refuse to take credit for funding (earmarking).  It doesn’t look like things have really changed that much in Washington, D.C.