Last week my opponent in next year’s Congressional election, Mac Thornberry, voted against providing $15 billion in flood relief for the residents of Houston and the surrounding area.
Congressman Thornberry’s stated reason for his vote was that the relief funding was tied to a “continuing resolution” to keep funding the government beyond September 30th, which is the end of the fiscal year. This resolution both raised the debt limit for the government and froze defense spending for three months. Congressman Thornberry argued that such a defense freeze would do “enormous and lasting damage to the American military.”
This argument deserves serious thought.
Last year the United States spent around $650 billion on defense. The current budget now being considered in the Senate calls for a budget for the coming year of about $700 billion. Delaying the funding for three months means that the Department of Defense would have only $162.5 billion to fund its operations for the first three months of the new fiscal year instead of $175 billion or, in other words, $12.5 billion less than they would under the new budget. That’s a reduction of about 7% – and that’s not a reduction of 7% from what they are now receiving; it’s a 7% reduction from the additional funding that Congress is considering.
Frankly I have a lot of trouble understanding how such a reduction in anticipated funding can cause “enormous and lasting damage to the American military.” Put it this way: If you had to absorb a 7% reduction in your salary then you would have to make some minor adjustments in how you live to accommodate the shortfall. But if you had to absorb a 7% smaller raise in your salary then … what? What adjustments in your spending would that cause? I suppose if you were planning on a larger raise and you had already committed yourself to spending that increase then you might have adjustments to make, but the professional budget masters employed by the Department of Defense should operate at a higher plane of responsibility than that. And it’s not as if the 7% reduction is permanent. It’s only for three months.
It’s also not as if the Department of Defense would be permanently denied this boost. At the end of the three months the new budget would be approved and the 7% boost would be spread over three fiscal quarters instead of four.
I don’t see how this 7% reduction can create “enormous damage,” and I don’t see how waiting three months can create “lasting damage.” As far as I can tell, Congressman Thornberry’s argument is the Congressional equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”
Now let’s consider what Congressman Thornberry’s vote wouldn’t do.
It wouldn’t help America’s fourth largest city’s two million residents, or the other two million residents in greater Harris County, recover their lives after a “once in 500 years” hurricane and epic flooding.
There is a simple and timeless truth about Texans in general and Panhandle Texans in particular: We are a community. We share each other’s successes and failures, joys and sorrows. We take care of each other when natural disasters strike hard, fast and deep. We are too proud, too independent, too caring to do less.
Congressman Thornberry was raised in the Panhandle, just like I was. But somewhere along the way he seems to have abandoned this simple and timeless truth. Perhaps he has been hanging out too long with other Republicans in Congress who have similar inane arguments for not doing the right thing for the people they represent. Maybe he cares more about the approval of the small and dwindling fragment of voters at the extreme right of his political base. Maybe he just doesn’t give a damn about anyone who isn’t a Republican and who doesn’t live in Texas’ 13th Congressional District. I don’t know the truth of it, but he does.
I believe it is a mistake, it is an error in perception, to divorce the needs of the people from the functions of the government. If a hostile nation had done the damage to Houston and its residents that hurricane Harvey did then we would consider it an act of war. To argue that helping Houston and its residents to recover from this blow is “not national defense” but that buying two more carrier battle groups “is national defense” is specious, hollow, false.
I do see one huge advantage for Congressman Thornberry in assuming the stance he did: As Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee he controls a major segment of the federal budget. By keeping so much money flowing toward the companies that stock America’s arsenal Congressman Thornberry can be sure of an assortment of executive positions with an array of defense contractors when he leaves public life.
But the people of Houston are in peril now, and Congressman Thornberry’s vote tells them that their lives don’t matter. That attitude creates enormous and lasting damage to our own neighbors.