House Approves Costly Weapons Program That Pentagon Doesn’t Want, Cuts Programs For Laid Off Workers

Today, after spending the last few days running around in an effort to scrounge up enough support, the House of Representatives plans to vote on an extenders bill that, among its many provisions, extends unemployment benefits through the end of November.

The final bill is a scaled down version of the original legislation, which extended jobless benefits through the end of the year and included Medicaid assistance to states and expanded COBRA health insurance subsidies for jobless workers. But those were jettisoned in the desperate quest for votes, thus making the bill cheaper.

However, the House did manage, in a separate bill authorizing the Defense Department for 2011, to approve funding for a second engine for the F-35 fighter that both the Pentagon and the White House have said is a big waste of money:

The House of Representatives, defying the Pentagon for a fourth straight year and a presidential veto threat, voted to preserve a second engine program for the multinational F-35 fighter jet…The House would provide $485 million next year to continue work on the engine being built by a joint venture of General Electric Co and Rolls-Royce Group Plc.

An amendment stripping the engine funding from the defense authorization bill, which is also slated for final passage today, failed by a 193–231 vote.


Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the second engine “costly and unnecessary,” adding 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.” Gates has repeatedly recommended that Obama veto the defense spending bill if it includes the engine funding. Obama himself has said, “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.”

Can you imagine another agency coming before Congress, expressly asking that a particular program be cut because its unnecessary, and having that request denied? It’s a completely absurd situation. To its credit, the Senate Armed Services Committee refused to fund the second engine, but proponents of the program are already pushing for it to remain alive in conference committee.

Meanwhile, with the unemployment rate at 9.9 percent and long-term unemployment at a record high, it’s a Herculean effort to get Congress to extend unemployment benefits. And COBRA subsidies are cast aside due to cost concerns. In fact, we’ve seen repeated filibusters of jobless benefit extensions that were characterized as costing too much.

The Senate is already planning to leave for the Memorial Day break without approving an extension, meaning that 1.2 million workers will see their jobless benefits expire this weekend. And money for a fighter engine that the Pentagon neither wants or needs continues to flow.