Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio’s 4th Congressional District hates federal spending, except when it’s for his own constituents. If his own district stands to benefit, the five-term Republican congressman and leader of the Tea Party-aligned House Freedom Caucus not only loves government pork—he’ll fight for it even if it hurts U.S. national security by redirecting funding away from vital programs.
Case in point: Jordan has pushed the government to shovel hundreds of millions of dollars into a factory in his district that makes tanks for the U.S. Army. These are tanks that, until this year, the Army did not want.
To be fair, Jordan is just maintaing a long tradition of pork-barrel politics. The tank factory in Lima has been “a favorite program for Ohio delegation earmarks, against the needs of the Army,” Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the nonproft Project on Government Oversight watchdog group in Washington, D.C., told The Daily Beast.
The plant “has been one of the poster children for Congress adding funding for programs the military neither wants nor needs, for parochial reasons,” Smithberger added.
But Jordan has consistently portrayed himself as the enemy of wasteful government. “Federal government spending is out of control, and it is the responsibility of Congress to fix the problem,” Jordan claims on his official Website.
Jordan opposes federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He called the Export-Import Bank, which finances foreign purchases of American goods, a “waste of money.” Jordan is co-sponsoring a bill to cut federal food stamps, saying it will help to “move our country away from a culture of dependency and back toward a culture of work and upward mobility.”
Jordan championed the 2011 Budget Control Act that mandated across-the-board federal spending cuts. But Jordan was also instrumental in redirecting nearly $1 billion of the Army’s increasingly stressed budget toward building unnecessary tanks.
“We have long advocated for policies that put our fiscal house in order, and reducing our massive national debt should be one of our nation’s highest priorities,” Jordan and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, wrote in a January op-ed. “But we shouldn’t do so by putting our national defense at risk.”
“This year’s appropriation of $120 million in additional funding for the Abrams tank program will go a long way towards doing that,” Jordan and Portman wrote, referring to the Army’s 2015 budget.
But the money Jordan helped funnel into unnecessaary tanks wasn’t really “additional” money. The Budget Control Act—which Jordan defended even when other Republicans soured to it—capped Army spending. The money Jordan and other lawmakers appropriated for vehicles the Army didn’t want came from other initiatives the ground combat branch did want, in particular training and realistic war games, which the branch had to scale back owing to a lack of funds.
“We are still having to procure systems we don’t need,” Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told Congress in January. “Excess tanks is an example in the Army, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on tanks that we simply don’t have the structure for anymore.”
(Jordan’s office declined to comment for this story.)
The sprawling Joint Systems Manufacturing Center—aka, the Lima Tank Plant—was built during World War II to churn out armored vehicles for the Allies. Today the government-owned plant assembles and upgrades M-1 Abrams tanks, the Army’s most fearsome fighting vehicles.
Thing is, Lima’s been building and upgrading M-1s for decades, ultimately producing thousands of them. So many that, in 2011, the Army announced it had enough of the 70-ton vehicles and proposed to stop buying them for a few years.
The Pentagon explained that the Lima Tank Plant would probably have stayed open, anyway, since it also builds M-1s and other vehicles for export. But the Army’s 2011 proposal, part of the budget process for 2012, would have reduced the plant’s income by a couple hundred million dollars annually and could have forced it to lay off some of its roughly 1,000 workers.
That’s when Jordan and other lawmakers stepped in, pressuring their colleagues to shuffle around $255 million to buy another 42 M-1s in 2012. Lawmakers also added tank money in 2013, 2014, and 2015. The result—hundreds of surplus tanks and a billion dollars in diverted spending.
But Jordan has defended his tank welfare as being vital to national security. “No other facility in America possesses the unique capabilities of the Lima plant,” he wrote. “It is the only plant in our country capable of producing and upgrading the Abrams main battle tank, and the industrial base and skilled workforce that supports that effort is irreplaceable.”
The facility “is not like a light switch that can be flipped on and off,” Jordan added. “Recreating this industrial base would have been more costly to the government than sustaining minimum production.”
We’ll never know if that is true. For the 2016 budget, the Army is once again asking for more M-1s, just like it always said it eventually would. This time, Jordan won’t have to force the Army to build tanks it doesn’t want just to keep his constituents in Lima happy. “I will continue seeking to instill fiscal sanity in government,” Jordan proclaimed on his website, apparently without irony.