08/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Victory For Sensible Defense

With his "political capital on the line," President Obama "won a crucial victory on Tuesday when the Senate voted to strip out $1.75 billion in financing for seven more F-22 jet fighters from a military authorization bill." The "nation's premier fighter-jet program" was conceived in the waning days of the Cold War to defend against "a highly advanced enemy fighter fleet," but the jets have "yet to fly a single combat mission in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else." Limiting the F-22 to the 187 already authorized was "a key policy victory for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has been campaigning against the plane since April" as a "niche, silver bullet solution" against a non-existent threat. As Glenn Greenwald noted, this fight is not about the overall military budget: "Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of increased defense spending. True to his word, Obama's 2010 fiscal year budget calls for $534 billion in defense spending (not including the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan)." Rather, it was a battle of political will between the influence of defense contractors and the legitimate national security interests of the United States. "If the Department of Defense can't figure out a way to defend the United States on a budget of more than half a trillion dollars a year," Gates argued during the F-22 debate, "then our problems are much bigger than anything that can be cured by a few more ships and planes." Following the dramatic vote, Obama responded, "I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on outdated and unnecessary defense projects to keep this nation secure."

'Huge, Huge Victory': "This is a big deal," declared Slate's Fred Kaplan. "I think it is fair to say that this is a huge huge victory for Obama and Gates," military analyst Max Bergmann agreed, "and is a big step forward toward instituting a strategic shift within the Pentagon." "It's a win for Obama and Gates," Steven Benen wrote, "but just as important, it's a win for military priorities, fiscal discipline, and changing how the system operates." The political stakes were high, as "Obama stuck his neck out and threatened the first veto of his presidency" over this "indefensible defense budget boondoggle." Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb explained that a defeat on the F-22 would make it hard for Gates "to be an effective Secretary of Defense during the rest of his tenure." When the plan to cut F-22 funding was announced, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight Danielle Brian warned, "This is going to be a real test of Obama's ability to push back on the Congress." "Just last week, conventional wisdom held that the $1.75 billion authorization would easily survive a challenge on the floor." Now, "the 58-to-40 vote clearly gives the Obama administration more leeway to overhaul military spending."

The Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex: In an earlier draft, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's famous "military-industrial complex" speech was going to warn the American public of the rise of the "military-industrial-congressional complex." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), one of the Senators leading the fight to end the F-22 program, returned to that theme, saying that "the F-22 amendment is a crucial vote on whether we can prevail over the Military Industrial Congressional Complex or not." Attempts to kill the F-22 program reach back to 1989, but as Korb wrote in 1999, "even when Presidents, let alone the Congress, cancel programs, they do not die." These high-cost military programs allow defense contractors to distribute jobs -- albeit at extraordinary cost to the American taxpayer and a the the expense of other noteworthy defense contracts -- across the nation. Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor the F-22, distributed the work for the jets across 44 states and 1000 subcontractors: "about two-thirds of the jobs are in California, Texas, Georgia, Washington and Connecticut." All ten senators from those states -- four Republicans, five Democrats, and Independent Joe Lieberman (CT) -- voted to preserve funding. But parochial interests, this time, found their limits. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), a longtime F-22 supporter and the home state senator of F-22 subcontractor Raytheon Corporation, decided in the end to support President Obama's agenda. But now the House of Representatives must agree. "The congressional fight over the F-22 fighter moves to the House" today, "as appropriators continue their drive to save the program over President Obama's objections."

Sensible Defense: "The notion that not buying 60 more F-22s imperils the national security of the United States I find completely nonsense," Gates said in June. If the House agrees, this view will have won out. Obama and Gates have proposed other cuts to outdated or unnecessary programs, but defense-contractor opposition stands in the way. The administration is attempting to end production for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class destroyers. Two of these $3.3-billion guided-missile ships have already been authorized, but the Navy wants to end production and build more DDG-51s, a considerably less expensive destroyer, instead. The $87 billion Future Combat Systems manned ground vehicle program, similarly "plagued by cost overruns" yet susceptible to improvised explosive devices, should also be canceled. Finally, "Gates' proposed FY10 defense budget refocuses our missile defense on programs that work while decreasing overall funding." As even the most successful "Star Wars" systems are still of questionable capability, these highly experimental and costly programs should be limited. The Center for American Progress Action Fund has launched the Sensible Defense campaign to "hold Congress accountable for putting wasteful defense spending back into the budget." Ending funding for the F-22 is just the first step in reforming military spending.

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ian Millhiser and Nate Carlile

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