WASHINGTON—In an effort to raise awareness of the financial hardships faced every day by the nation’s defense establishment, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) announced Tuesday that he would attempt to live for a full month on the $640 billion annual budget of the U.S. military.
The congressman said that subsisting on $1.75 billion a day for a mere four weeks “is nothing” compared to what the defense apparatus overseen by the Pentagon must endure year-round, and described the military’s economic plight as a stain on the nation’s conscience.
“Trying to stretch $53 billion to the end of the month won’t be easy, but if it helps bring attention to the routine struggles of a Defense Department on a limited budget, I’m happy to do it,” said Wittman, noting that the U.S. military receives only 37 percent of the world’s defense spending, with the rest all going to foreign countries. “Unfortunately, a lot of folks in Washington don’t realize how dire the situation is. But by living off only what our defense sector receives, I intend to show them just how hard the Pentagon has it.”
“No military should have to scrape by like this,” he continued. “Especially not in the richest nation on earth.”
Though he has just begun the 30-day challenge to see if he can make ends meet on the military’s constrained finances, Wittman acknowledged the experience had already proved “absolutely eye-opening.” He said that after paying for basics such as contingency operations in Afghanistan, he had no idea how he would manage to stretch the remainder of his $13.25 billion weekly allotment to cover routine purchases of MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles and surface-to-surface missiles.
Moreover, Wittman explained that such luxuries as updated amphibious assault vehicles for delivering Marines into combat zones were “completely off the table” on such limited resources.
The three-term representative went on to state that he doesn’t understand how the military makes it even halfway through the month without “scraping the bottom of the barrel,” and that he expects it will only be a matter of days before he finds himself scrambling to keep up with the mounting bills from private military contractors such as Raytheon, Titan Corporation, and Northrop Grumman.
“Obviously, you want to give your armed forces everything and tell them there’s no limit to what they can achieve in this world, but sometimes that just isn’t possible.” Wittman said. “Sometimes you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want them to have a new generation of Ohio-class nuclear submarines this month, or do I want them to be able to fly their F-35 Joint Strike Fighters?’ It’s a shame to have to choose one or the other, but that’s the sad reality our Joint Chiefs of Staff now face in this country.”
“You simply can’t get by on a budget of $640 billion per year without making these kinds of sacrifices,” he added. “Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t understand the realities of eking by on just 20 percent of the overall federal budget.”
According to the congressman, all it will take is one unplanned expense over the course of the month for him to face financial ruin. If an aircraft carrier requires repairs or a war suddenly breaks out, he said, the result will be crippling debt that could take many years to pay off, if ever.
However, Wittman told reporters it will all be worth it if his month-long commitment to stick to the budget provides him with a better understanding of just how little $53 billion buys in today’s world.
“Perhaps you’re lucky and you’ve never had the experience of waking up terrified you won’t be able to make the monthly payment on your ballistic missile system, but this is something that happens to people every day, right here in the United States of America,” said Wittman, who described the mental exhaustion that comes from having to carefully allocate a finite budget to cover necessary costs ranging from heavyweight torpedoes, to Apache helicopter fuel, to littoral combat ships. “That’s why I’m asking my fellow lawmakers to take the same pledge I have and go 30 days spending no more than the U.S. military does.”
“Maybe then we’ll fully appreciate what is—for the military, defense contractors, and the entire arms industry—a constant and tragic fact of life,” he added.