The Texas Democrat has taken hundreds of thousands from defense companies with histories of ripping off taxpayers.

By Donald Shaw, Sludge

Throughout his nearly two decades in Congress, Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, who faces a competitive primary challenger on March 1, has sought to distinguish himself from his Democratic colleagues by branding himself as a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.

His website section on “responsible spending” highlights his support of PAYGO, a budgeting policy dating back to the George H.W. Bush administration that requires new federal spending to be fully offset by new savings, as well as a law he helped pass that increases transparency around federal agencies’ performance goals. Cuellar is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a moderate voting bloc that describes itself as a caucus of fiscally-responsible Democrats, and he is a member of the coalition’s Task Force on Fiscal Responsibility and Government Reform. Focusing on conservative budgeting seems to have been smart politics for Cuellar, who represents a district where the median income is well below the national average.

Henry Cuellar sits at his desk during a Congressional hearing

At the same time, however, Cuellar has consistently thrown his support behind an ever-growing area of federal spending, one where billions of taxpayer dollars each year are doled out to companies with histories of defrauding the government, overbilling, and underperforming on their contracts.

More than half of the Department of Defense budget each year goes to contracting with private defense companies, many of which have histories of complaints from the government of fraud and poor performance. Since 2017, Cuellar has had a seat on the 17-member Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that approves federal funding for the Defense Department. Cuellar has voted for every Department of Defense spending bill since being a member of the subcommittee, including in 2018 when he sided with Republicans to support the FY 2019 Defense Appropriations bill sponsored by the-subcommittee chair Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas). He also voted with Republicans in favor of every National Defense Authorization Act that Congress considered during the Trump administration years. Appropriations is Cuellar’s sole legislative committee assignment and it is where he exerts the most power and influence as a member of Congress.

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