By Laura Litvan and Julie Bykowicz
WASHINGTON — He's an anti-tax Republican representative from Ohio. She's an antiwar Democratic senator from Washington state. Jim Jordan and Patty Murray have little in common, save this: Protecting multibillion-dollar defense projects in their states from budget cuts.
Together, they embody why reducing the defense budget is difficult, even with wide agreement that the government spends too much. The Pentagon's largess is so sprawling that, through military bases and contracts, it touches all 535 members of Congress — money that translates into jobs and revenue for companies that are major campaign donors.
"It's hellishly hard to cut a major defense acquisition program" because of those connections, said Gordon Adams, a U.S. foreign policy professor at American University in Washington who as an associate director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton reviewed the Defense Department's annual budget requests.
Members of Congress are de facto lobbyists for defense companies, inviting colleagues to tour plants and organizing letters to pressure the Pentagon. The alternative to reducing or eliminating specific defense projects is a $1.2 trillion across- the-board, automatic budget reduction spread over nine years that would begin taking effect March 1. About half of that would come from national security programs.
Under that scenario, military funding would be cut about $46 billion in the final seven months of the current budget year. Those reductions would ripple across the country. On average, the Pentagon spends more than $10 billion per state each year, according to a November 2011 Bloomberg Government study of fiscal 2009 expenditures.
Uncertainty caused by the threat of automatic cuts already has affected the economy. The gross domestic product dropped at a 0.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of last year as the biggest plunge in defense spending in 40 years overwhelmed gains in personal income and consumer spending. Pentagon contracts dropped to $12.1 billion in January, a 67 percent decrease from December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.