I'm warning you: This is a rant about politics, barely masquerading as something sports-related. And for the purposes of fuller disclosure, even though my first vote in a national election was for the Independent candidate for President, John Anderson (R-Ill.), for the past 30 years, I've been a reliable supporter of Democrats.
I believe that a strong military is vital to our national interests. At the same time, I can't believe that we ooh and ah every time $450,000 in taxpayer money is spent to fly F-18s over sporting events. In 2011, that's what the Department of Defense said was spent for the Super Bowl flyover in Arlington, Texas, with the roof closed. You remember right: We spent all that money, you and me, for a five-second television shot. Inside, it was shown on Jerry Jones' $40 million video board, and the crowd went absolutely nuts.
Last night, the House of Representatives voted to keep spending millions of taxpayer dollars on sports sponsorships, and I'm going absolutely nuts. By a vote of 216-202, the House rejected an amendment by Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) to trim $72.3 million in sponsorships, and rejected, as well, an effort by McCollum to reduce the budget for the military's 140 bands and 5,000 full-time musicians from $388 million to $200 million. According to the Associated Press, the congresswoman had "questioned the need to spend nearly $4 billion over the next decade on military bands and musical performances."
The U.S. is budgeting $608 billion for defense in fiscal year 2013, so the $72.3 million that we're talking about here - to sponsor NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. and IndyCar Series' JR Hildebrand, National Hot Rod Association drag racing, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and bass fishing - is mere pocket change as far as the Pentagon is concerned. But it's still tens of millions of dollars at a time when the Department of Defense is weighing serious cuts from its overall budget, the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan are easing the number of recruits needed, and various people within the Armed Forces recruitment staff have questioned the sponsorships' effectiveness.
Members of the congressional delegations of North Carolina, Mississippi and Florida spoke out against the proposed cuts. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) dismissed the amendment as micromanaging the military's recruiting, Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) said the relationship between the military and NASCAR was critical, and Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) said there was "no reason Congress should be telling the Department of Defense where and how to spend money." ("In fact," noted the Associated Press this morning, "Congress repeatedly instructs the Pentagon on how to spend the money it appropriates.")
I get it - their constituents watch NASCAR races in racing meccas such as Charlotte, Daytona and, er, someplace in Mississippi. But 213 other Representatives voted with them, many of whom have rejected every Democratic effort to raise revenues by - just to cite one extremely partisan-sounding example - allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire on households earning over $250,000 a year. House Republicans, including the 2010 class of Tea Party freshmen, continue to back deep budget cuts in numerous domestic programs as part of what they call "fiscal discipline," and this week, House Republicans have scheduled numerous floor votes to hammer the Democrats on their cuts to the military in an attempt to tar them with the "soft on defense" label.
You can put me squarely in McCollum's camp. "We're in a fiscal crisis here," she said in support of her bipartisan amendment. "Bass fishing is not national security."