As mandatory budget cuts loom, a group of Congressional Republicans has cheered the coming reductions in federal spending — so long as federal funding is maintained for a plane that is years behind schedule and doesn’t fly, that is.
The Department of Defense announced on Friday afternoon that it has grounded the entire fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in light of an issue with its engine. Grounding the fleet, in all three of its variations, is just the latest in a slew of setbacks to the troubled acquisition program. Produced by Lockheed Martin to the tune of $100 million per plane, the total cost of the project so far has climbed over $400 billion, making it the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history. By contrast, the Manhattan Project — which created the nuclear weapon from scratch — cost about $55 billion in today’s dollars.
The F-35 project as a whole is currently at least six years behind schedule, slated for delivery in 2015 at the earliest. Beginning on March 1, the Defense Department budget is poised to fall under the effect of mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration, cutting $1 trillion from the budget in military and domestic spending over the next ten years.
Enter the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus.
Formed in 2011, as talks to avoid sequestration were first ongoing, 49 members of the House of Representatives — hailing from both parties — signed on to protect the F-35. Several of the Republican members of the JSF Caucus, however, are among the most ardent supporters of slashing federal funding currently in Congress. Among their ranks are Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), each of whom have called for deep reductions to programs that actually work.
Broun, in a 2012 interview with Politico, estimated that he had proposed $4 billion in cuts in the House Science, Technology, and Commerce committee alone. Franks has made clear that he believes the only way to shrink the government “is to choke the monster.” Poe has compared Congress to “addicts” when it comes to spending, proposing a 12 step program to break the habit as he argued against the fiscal cliff deal.
While several Republicans have favored raising revenues to help offset sequestration, none of the Republicans listed above have joined in. Instead, the Representatives listed above all voted “aye” on a bill to replace the defense cuts in sequestration entirely with cuts on the domestic side. Cuts to defense can be made certainly made to military spending — if done smartly — making voting to protect a plane that doesn’t work in opposition to providing health care to millions of Americans near unconscionable.