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BIG BILL FOR BRASS RANKLES

Americans want our military personnel to have everything they need to protect the nation and to protect themselves. But how does top brass justify spending $56,000 to rent 40 late-model "Cadillac-type" luxury sedans and 40 Chevrolet "Suburban-type" sport utility vehicles to chauffeur generals and VIPs to and from a one-hour change-of-command ceremony?

Taxpayers are being hit up for that sum for rental vehicles when Gen. David Petraeus becomes head of the U.S. Central Command on Friday. The Pentagon should have considered how out of touch this looks in the midst of the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. The MacDill motor pool must be awfully depleted if there aren't enough vehicles already on base to handle this.

CentCom officials say they are only following the usual Pentagon rules that require certain types of vehicles when ferrying three-star generals and above and other VIPs to official functions. But this is not a usual time. Critics such as Taxpayers for Common Sense may be right that military spending is such a sacred cow in Washington that the Pentagon is blind when it comes to public perception.

No one is asking the military to make unnecessary or dangerous sacrifices. No one is suggesting generals and senators should, heaven forbid, cram into the back seats of tiny hybrids. But spending $56,000 of taxpayers' money to rent big vehicles for a big ceremony sends the wrong message about priorities.

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