Our guest blogger is Krisila Benson, Director of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities Action, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
The debate over the future of the F-22 is turning out to be a marathon, not a sprint. After three days of debate this week on the amendment to the Defense Authorization bill proposed by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) to strip the $1.75 billion for the purchase of seven additional planes, the amendment was temporarily withdrawn because Republicans were unwilling to agree to cloture on the debate.
The Republicans appear committed to stretching out debate on the Defense Authorization bill as along as possible, as part of a larger stall strategy to avoid getting to healthcare, and other issues critical to the agenda of the Obama administration before the August recess. The F-22 is a great stall tactic – from their perspective it is more politically savvy to pontificate on the full floor of the Senate at great length in support of the F-22 than against the Hate Crimes amendment, the other big amendment debated this week.
To raise the stakes, earlier this week President Obama made a pointed veto threat if the Defense Authorization bill (pdf) winds up on his desk with any F-22. This debate is no longer one based on the merits of the case, and it is unclear whether Levin and McCain have the votes they need, even after the threatened veto. Senators hear the “Jobs, jobs, jobs” arguments made by Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and others supporting the F-22, in spite of the fact that future production of the F-35 will offset job losses created by the end of the F-22. And unfortunately many Democrats continue to be reluctant to vote against any defense initiative for fear of appearing soft on national security.
The top civilian and military leaders of the Pentagon have spoken at great length about how additional F-22s are not needed, and continuing production of the line comes at the expense of other initiatives that are far more important for our national security.
Secretary of Defense Gates can only be characterized as exasperated on this issue. Last night in Chicago he said, “with regard to something like the F-22, irrespective of whether the number of aircraft at issue is 12 planes or 200, if we can’t bring ourselves to make this tough but straightforward decision – reflecting the judgment of two very different presidents, two different secretaries of defense, two chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, and the current Air Force Secretary and Chief of Staff, where do we draw the line? And if not now, when? If we can’t get this right — what on earth can we get right?”