While Congress and the President fight it out over the debt ceiling and all of America quietly shudders over whether our economy will completely default on itself, at least one industry still hums along without a care in the world. Amidst a fiscal crisis of apparently apocalyptic proportions, where the GOP demands dollar for dollar spending cuts from the budget in order to raise our debt limit, the Pentagon asked Congress for $264 million to cover part of a $771 million overrun on the F-35 program. The Hill reports Republican Senator John McCain let the news slip via Twitter, saying “Congress notified that first F-35 jets have cost overruns of $771M. Outrageous! Pentagon asking for $264M down payment now. Disgraceful.”
Leaders of the program Lockheed Martin spat back on Twitter, contending “The F-35 team is focused on reducing costs of the jets and is showing significant improvement in key areas,” to which the ranking Senate Armed Services Committee member McCain said “taxpayers deserve better.”
So while Democrats and Republicans fight over who to blame for our economy once again heading towards the brink of destruction, the machinations of war continue to roll. As I pointed out back when the GOP first released their suggested budget cuts: the Pentagon spends nearly $122 million per plane building the F-35 fighter jet. The 2011 budget calls for more than $11 billion for the planes, none of which have been delivered since development and production began ten years ago. By 2016, the military wants 2,443 F-35s at an estimated cost of close to $329 billion. In other words, by scrapping just one percent of that order, a number that wouldn’t even dent our 20 to one lead in planes over the Chinese military, we would save most of the aforementioned social programs.
Of course, the Defense Department and its pet contractors believe any kind of spending cuts, even on a program to build a plane that has no mission, would be catastrophic. Top defense trade organization Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) President Marion Blakey argued in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner “understand the unique national security threats posed by skyrocketing debt, but we believe those threats will only be compounded if funding for the Department of Defense is cut precipitously during this critical stage of budget reduction negotiations.” Blakey went on to say “Any cuts to defense must be generated in a careful and thoughtful manner, guided by our military leaders.” In other words, if we stop spending mountains of money on pet defense projects, we’ll tank the economy, which will threaten our national security. If Congress really needs to perform a song and dance to show that everyone is pitching in, even the Pentagon, they need to let the wolves guard the hen house.
All of the bluster, talk of “tough decisions” and suggestions of sacrifice surrounding our continually sinking economy come with one big fat exemption – defense spending. If we’re truly nearing an economic apocalypse, why is one third of the budget still off the cutting board?