Recognizing the need to cut spending in light of record budget deficits, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced major cuts to a number of big-ticket weapons programs last year that the Pentagon concluded it no longer needed. Gates — who was first appointed by President Bush — is so serious about the need to eliminate these programs that he has called on President Obama to veto any defense spending bill that contains funding for further development of these wasteful, unnecessary systems. Chief among the cuts is an extra engine for the F-35 fighter jet, of which Gates has said, “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.”
One would think that self-styled budget hawks like Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) would herald Gates’ proposed cuts. He has said “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 in an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt yesterday, Pence defended spending hundreds of millions more on an extra engine, despite having said moments earlier that one of his top priorities is “to get federal spending under control.” Pence attempts to make a national security argument for the engine, before quickly revealing his true motives:
HUNT: Everybody seems to be for — most people say they’re for fiscal discipline, but it gets hard when it’s in your district. Let me give you one example for you. You went to the House floor to defend money for a second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter … [which would have] a factory in your district. The Pentagon says it doesn’t want it. The other day a Tea Party group — this is a Tea Party group — said of this project, it’s an example of “opportunistic parasite feeding on the expansion of government.” Tough stuff.
PENCE: Well, sure. And everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but — and not entitled to their own facts. The reality is, and the Heritage Foundation produced a very important study on this, is that it is believed that when you were talking about a military defense contract that will span decades of time, it is in the interest of taxpayers in the long run to have more than one source, more than one manufacturer of that engine.
The fact that one of those two engines in part is manufactured in Indiana, we certainly welcome. We’re proud of those jobs. But at the end of the day, I really do believe that it was in the interest of our national defense.
In contradicting the Pentagon by claiming that the extra engine is “in the interest of our national defense,” Pence seems to be claiming that he — a former talk radio host — knows more about national security than the military. Rolls Royce, the company that would produce the extra engine, employes 4,000 people in Pence’s district and has spent millions lobbying for the engine. Development of the engine would cost $560 million for next year alone, but Pence believes in this pork project so much that he went to the House floor in May to defend it.
Pence is hardly the only Republican lawmaker to support the wasteful extra engine, despite bloviating about government spending on a nearly daily basis. For example, 32 members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) — a group of ultra-conservative House members — signed a “no earmarks” pledge, but 17 of that 32 voted to fund the extra engine anyway. Beyond Pence, who is the third-ranking Republican in the House, supporters of the extra engine include such fiscal conservative leaders as Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), and RSC Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) — almost the entire Republican leadership.
Not to be outdone by the lower house, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) recently gave a radio interview in which he accused President Obama of being “the most anti-military president” in history, explaining that Obama “disarmed America.” His evidence? Cutting the C-17, F-22, and Future Combat System programs — all of which Gates identified as unnecessary and put on the chopping block.