As most of Washington has begun to see the need to have some serious conversations about how we might make do with less spending, it probably comes as no surprise that for many members of Congress it is little more than just talk.
While some congressional leaders prepare to do battle with the bureaucracy and the White House over cuts to cherished programs, others, (including some Republicans), are trying to force the administration to spend billions more than it has already requested.
Congress is trying to force feed the Pentagon additional hardware that both the Bush and Obama administrations agreed would be a waste of taxpayer dollars. Specifically, they want to force the military to buy an alternate engine for the forthcoming F-35 Lightning fighter jet.
Of course this has absolutely nothing to do with there being any problems with the engine that the Pentagon selected for the F-35 to begin with. It works just fine and the brass is quite happy with it. And it is not that the Pentagon usually makes a habit of buying two engines from two different manufacturers for all of their planes. They don’t. The problem is that General Electric didn’t win the contract to supply engines for the F-35. Pratt & Wittney did. So GE did what most big companies do in such situations, they lobbied Congress. The result: members of Congress are trying to come to the rescue with a little corporate welfare.
But the fact is that corporate welfare is just as wasteful and insidious as the other varieties. In this case, it subsidizes failure. And given that our national budgets are running trillions of dollars in red ink, it is a subsidy we cannot afford.
Another engine means twice the training for mechanics, twice the spare parts and twice the space to put them in. As the Chief of Naval Operations put it, “On a carrier, space matters”. And so does the money.
The four-hundred and fifty million that they may choose to spend now is estimated to cost the Pentagon at least three billion before all is said and done. And we all know how reliable government estimates are to get larger over time.
Of course, as issues go, it is not exactly as sexy as fighting for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, or repealing ObamaCare. And the numbers involved are not nearly as large. But, as former Senator Everett Dirksen famously said, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
It is a legitimate, bona fide example of government waste. But in this case, it is not Eisenhower’s “military industrial complex” that’s pushing it, since the military does not want it. Rather, it is Congress, along with the salesmen for the company that would make the engines.
As budgets get tighter in a time of austerity, the Pentagon, just like everyone else, is trying to learn how to do more with less. Congress should not make the job more difficult by allocating pieces of a finite pie to places that will do no good in furthering the Pentagon’s mission.
The most amazing thing is that, in the era of Tea Party politics, Republicans would tolerate this sort of obvious waste. It is not as though they have to worry about looking soft on defense when they run for reelection, (as many Democrats often do). On the contrary, they will have enough trouble dealing with the criticism from the media over budget cuts to government programs without making it any harder by having a clear example of wasteful Pentagon spending. Much less an example of wasteful spending that the Pentagon did not want.
The issue represents an opportunity for Republican leaders to demonstrate that they have learned the lessons of the 2010 election, and that the big spending past really is the past. The question is whether or not they will take advantage of it. We will know soon enough, as Congress will probably be voting on the issue in the coming days.
The jury is still out.
The Congressional switchboard number is: (202) 224-3121.
Let them hear from you.