Last month, the House of Representatives passed the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization, which includes funding for a second engine for the F-35 fighter jet that the Department of Defense doesn’t want. In fact, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended that President Obama veto the defense authorization if it includes money for the “costly and unnecessary” engine. But still, the House approved it, while voting the same day to axe programs helping laid off workers.
The Senate Armed Services Committee, to its credit, chose not to include the funding in its version of the bill, which the full Senate has yet to consider. Thus, a lobbying blitz has been launched to preserve the engine:
This year, 13 different lobbying firms, plus each contractor’s in-house lobbyists, are engaging lawmakers on the engine issue — focusing on the defense authorization and appropriations bills in which the engine debate will most likely be decided…This year, there are 75 lobbyists working on defense issues at the firms engaged in the second-engine showdown, of whom at least 56 — or 75 percent — are former congressional staffers or executive branch officials. Of those, at least 33 are registered to work on the engine issue specifically.
Gates has said that “every dollar additional to the budget that we have to put into the F-35 is a dollar taken from something else that the troops may need,” while Obama has added, “think about it: hundreds of millions of dollars for an alternate second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter when one reliable engine will do just fine.” Members of Congress from both parties have criticized the funding, with Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) saying “Republicans too often over the last couple of decades have said, ‘We want to limit spending but leave defense alone.’”
However, the defense industry successfully preserves these wasteful programs because far too many lawmakers pay lip service to cutting the deficit, but then balk when a specific program is on the chopping block. Take, for instance, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), who says that “if we are going to put our fiscal house in order, everything has to be on the table. We have to be willing to look at domestic spending, we have to be able to look at entitlements, and we have to look at defense.” But when push comes to shove, Pence supports the second engine.
As CAP’s Lawrence Korb, Sean Duggan, and Laura Conley wrote, Congress needs to stop simply talking a good game on defense spending and “replace platitudes with action”:
The long list of unnecessary platforms that were cut by the Defense Department only to be resurrected by Congress is emblematic of the enormous challenge the administration faces in paring down the defense budget…The now yearly struggle between the Defense Department and Congress over funding for unnecessary and unwanted, but politically advantageous programs must end. Both sides of the aisle agree that current trends in defense spending cannot continue, but rhetoric is not enough.
Hopefully, the Senate can hold the line here and provide fiscal sanity when it comes to the defense budget with at least a momentary victory.