Budget

House takes aim at military band spending

The House has voted to spend less on brass and woodwinds so there's more money for bullets and bombs.

With little debate, lawmakers on Thursday approved an amendment by Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., that restricts the Defense Department from footing the bill for military bands to play at dinners, dances and other social events.

McSally, a retired Air Force fighter pilot, said upward of $430 million a year goes for military musicians' instruments, uniforms and travel expenses. At the same time, budget pressures have caused a sharp decline in the combat readiness of the armed forces. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are short of pilots and aircraft, she said, and the Army is heading toward having the smallest number of soldiers since World War II.

Yet there are 99 different bands in the Army alone, she said, who may have 20 or more performances scheduled on a given day around the world.

"For every dollar that is spent on our bands to entertain at social functions, that is a dollar we are not spending on national security, on our troops, and our families," McSally said. "Do we want to have aircraft parts funded or musical instruments?"

Lest she be thought of as an enemy of the arts, McSally noted she's not pulling the plug completely. Military bands will continue to perform ceremonial duties, including the funerals of service members and other special ceremonies.

Her amendment was added to the annual defense spending bill, which also passed the House on Thursday. McSally won the backing of an important ally: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., the chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee.

"The bands play an important role during ceremonies recognizing the sacrifices of the fallen, but they are not appropriate at every event," Frelinghuysen said.