The budget Super Committee and U.S. anti-corruption obligations
With a deadline for reaching agreement on a broad-based deficit reduction deal just three weeks away, it is becoming increasingly clear that the primary targets of the so-called Super Committee are popular social programs that millions of low-income Americans and senior citizens depend on for basic subsistence and health care.
“Nothing,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday, “nothing, would send a more reassuring message to the markets than taking bipartisan steps to fix the structural problems in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”
When asked whether the committee was looking to cut Social Security benefits, Super Committee co-chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) said, “Everything is on the table, and we’ve made no decisions.”
Receiving far less attention than the potential cuts to these vital programs is the option of cutting military spending, begging the question of whether it is on the table at all. This is despite the fact that the Pentagon accounts for 20% of the federal budget and more than 40% of global arms spending. The Pentagon budget, in fact, is over six times larger than the military budget of China, the United States’ closest competitor in the field of military spending.
When it comes to the deal that the Super Committee must reach by Nov. 23 before automatic triggers on across-the-board spending cuts kick in, the Air Force Times reports, “There has been strong resistance to almost every imaginable cut in federal spending, but especially in possible cuts in the defense budget.”
Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, according to the Air Force Times, oppose any additional defense cuts, a position that severely limits the options of the Super Committee, officially known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.
Americans might be scratching their heads as to why their representatives in Congress are placing vital entitlement programs “on the table” while taking off the table wasteful Pentagon spending.
But a recent non-partisan investigation provides valuable insight, and should serve also as a reminder that the United States government – including the unelected Super Committee – is bound by international treaty to take necessary measures to counter corruption.
The report, “Tools of Influence: The Arms Lobby and the Super Committee,” jointly released Monday by the Center for International Policy and Common Cause, details the substantial monetary contributions made by the arms lobby to members of the Super Committee.
“The defense industry has a major stake in the deliberations of the budget super committee,” the report begins, “which is empowered to propose reductions in military spending.”
Pointing out that one out of every five dollars distributed by the Pentagon in fiscal year 2010 went to just five companies (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon), the report notes that “these companies are pooling their resources – working through vehicles such as their trade group, the Aerospace Industries Association – in an attempt to keep Pentagon spending as high as possible in the face of pressures to reduce the federal deficit.”
The military-industrial complex spares no expense in utilizing its tools of influence on Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Super Committee in particular. “In the two most recent election cycles,” the report documents, “the defense industry contributed over $1.1 million to the 12 members of the budget super committee.”
Five former Super Committee staffers now serve as lobbyists for at least one of the nation’s top ten military contractors, with one, Shay Michael Hancock, working on behalf of three at the same time (Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon).
Besides having nearly two lobbyists for every member of Congress, the industry had “at least 682 ‘revolving door’ employees in 2010 – people who had worked in government overseeing the arms industry before leaving government to work for a defense firm.”
All of this is a violation of the United States’ obligations under international law.
As a state party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the United States has agreed to take certain measures to prevent conflicts of interest and corruption in both the public and private sphere.
Specifically, in order to prevent corruption:
Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.
Each State Party shall endeavour to establish and promote effective practices aimed at the prevention of corruption.
Further, states parties to the UN Convention against Corruption shall adopt such legislative and other measures as may be necessary in order to:
Prevent conflicts of interest by imposing restrictions, as appropriate and for a reasonable period of time, on the professional activities of former public officials or on the employment of public officials by the private sector after their resignation or retirement, where such activities or employment relate directly to the functions held or supervised by those public officials during their tenure.
In the U.S., we don’t refer to our system as institutionalized corruption, but that’s exactly what it is. The main difference between the American version of corruption and the petty corruption seen elsewhere in the world is that ours has a much deeper and broader impact. While the run-of-mill corruption in a country like Nigeria might negatively impact the quality of life within that country, American corruption spreads its injustice and chaos around the world.