Barely defensible

The Republican Party's reputation as a haven for radical budget cutters has once again been shown to be a massive exaggeration.

On Thursday the House Armed Services Committee voted overwhelmingly to approve a $554 billion defense bill that includes weapons programs the Pentagon doesn't even want.

For instance, the Army sought to suspend production of upgraded Abrams tanks built by Virginia-based General Dynamic. Not so fast, said the committee - controlled by GOP members - which added an additional $181 million to the Army's budget to save the program.

In addition, the proposal would stop the Pentagon from retiring a version of the Global Hawk drone made by Northrop Grumman, requiring the secretary of the Air Force to keep it in service for at least two more years.

The legislation even seeks to slow the pace of military personnel reductions and blocks the closing of obsolete U.S. military bases.

Make no mistake, maintaining a strong defense is a vital and legitimate function of the federal government. But surely our national security won't be jeopardized if Congress pulls the plug on weapons systems the military didn't even include in its own spending proposal.

If this country is ever going to regain a strong fiscal footing, defense spending - along with every other federal expenditure - must not be exempt from scrutiny. And that means an end to the practice of treating the defense budget as a vote-generating jobs program.

House Republicans - led by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin - have taken predictable heat from the big spenders for pushing a responsible nondefense budget that would slow the growth of many domestic programs. That's a reasonable step. But they lose credibility as budget hawks when they then turn around and protect their own sacred cows in the defense industry.