From the January issue of Reason, Veronique de Rugy explains how the system is set up to protect military spending from even the most determined spending cuts:
The Department of Defense, with its 2.3 million workers, is the single largest employer in the United States. The defense industry, which is the main private-sector recipient of defense dollars, directly or indirectly employs another 3 million people. This, in a nutshell, is why it’s so hard to cut government spending in general and military spending in particular.
The scope and reach of the government are far bigger than we think, explains John J. Dilulio of the National Academy of Public Administration in the Spring 2012 issue of National Affairs. It’s more than just the money Washington spends or the people it employs. It’s also the people in the private sector who live off that spending. It’s the nonprofit organizations paid to help administer government programs. It’s the contractors who run the programs, the contractors’ sub-contractors, and so on.
[. . .]
Even when military contractors’ profits have reached an all-time high, Congress seems committed to sheltering the companies from any budget cuts. Industry lobbying probably plays a role here. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the U.S. defense and aerospace lobby doled out $24 million to political campaigns and committees during the 2008 campaign cycle and spent nearly $60 million on lobbying in 2011. Lockheed Martin alone spent $15 million in 2011 on its lobbying efforts, plus $2 million in political contributions. Boeing spent $16 million on lobbying the same year.
In his seminal 1971 article “The Theory of Economic Regulation,” the Nobel-winning economist George Stigler noted that agencies eventually become captive of the very interest groups they were ostensibly designed to police. Writing regulation or even spending legislation requires in-depth industry knowledge, so federal agencies and lawmakers tend to hire directly from the very companies they must oversee or spend money on.
The reverse is true too. In order to gain better access to their regulators and government funds, companies hire lobbyists who used to work for Congress or government agencies. Of the 408 lobbyists employed by the military industry to apply pressure on Congress, 70 percent used to work on Capitol Hill.