Thursday, July 23, 2009

The End of the F-22

The president and congress went eyeball to eyeball on the F-22 Raptor, and it looks like congress blinked. The Hill:
The Senate’s decisive vote this week to cut off the F-22 program is resonating in the House, where leading appropriators on Wednesday said they would back away from an effort to continue production of the radar-evading fighter.

“When the Senate said 58 to 40, I think that ended the debate,” said Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee. “We have to be realistic about this.”

The vote on whether to extend money to the F-22 emerged as a crucial test for President Obama, who personally vowed to veto any defense bill that contained money to extend the fighter program. The Obama administration wants to cap the fleet at 187 planes.

Murtha last week included $369 million in the 2010 defense appropriations bill for advance parts for 12 more F-22s after 2010.

Now Murtha said he will seek to use the $369 million for spare parts and engines for existing F-22s and not as a down payment of sorts on any additional jets.

Matt Yglesias has an interesting piece dealing with the wider implications of the fight over the F-22
Once upon a time, it was generally agreed that spending on defense, like spending on roads or health care, counted as the expenditure of money. Perhaps a good idea, perhaps a bad idea -- it was, at any rate, spending. Spending that had to be judged relative to alternative expenditures of funds or the possibility of lower taxes. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as an advocate of small government, was actually an advocate for restraint in U.S. defense spending. He thought that we could rely on our nuclear deterrent to secure ourselves and our allies from Soviet aggression. By contrast, big government Democrat John F. Kennedy argued in favor of more spending, both at home and on military forces. The particular merits of these debates aside, the point is that defense spending was generally acknowledged to be a form of spending as such.

Things changed when the modern-day version of the conservative movement came to power in the person of Ronald Reagan. Taxes were slashed. We were told that "government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem." Consequently, spending would be cut in line with taxes, and the size of government would shrink. But in reality, total federal spending was essentially flat in the Reagan years and the country witnessed its first peacetime debt explosion. The reason? Despite the drastic reductions in federal revenues, defense spending skyrocketed.

Under George W. Bush, the same pattern repeated itself. Taxes were cut massively, creating a situation in which we were told we "couldn't afford" various kinds of domestic social outlay. But military spending -- including the "regular" Pentagon budget outside the various war supplementals -- just kept going up. Alleged small-government conservatives enthusiastically support this agenda, and Blue Dog Democrats and other self-proclaimed "deficit hawks" in Congress did not raise a peep of opposition. Indeed, within the GOP caucus, opposition to the federal government having any money is strongly correlated with support for spending tons on defense. And within the Democratic caucus, proclivity to bleating about deficits is, again, correlated with support for massive defense expenditures.

To some liberals, any defense budget fight that doesn't actually reduce expenditures isn't a defense budget fight worth engaging in. But the first step to a serious debate about the necessary level of defense spending is to change the political context so that we're no longer doing fantasyland budgeting for which politicians pretend the Pentagon's bills are paid with Monopoly money.

One of the oddest things about the debate over military spending is those ostensibly against the inefficient use of government funds are those most dedicated to bloated, inefficient military programs. Saxby Chambliss, for example, excoriated Barack Obama's budget as spending to much money, yet fought tooth and nail to preserve the F-22. Unsurprisingly, Lockheed-Martin, the F-22's maker, is a big employer in Georgia, Chambliss's home state. This wider trend of conservatives supporting massive defense spending was true of George W Bush and Ronald Reagan, both of whom ran up massive debts in there time in part due to increasing defense spending.
It is interesting to think that once Republicans were suspicious of military spending. Dwight Eisenhower once warned in a speech in 1961:
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

Whether Eisenhower had the right answer (a force more reliant on the threat of nuclear weapons) is dubious, but he was completely right to warn of the creeping influence of the complex.
The junking of the F-22 Raptor is a loss for the military-industrial complex, but a minor one. Despite the way it has been portrayed in the media, Obama's budget in fact increases military spending from the Bush years. Leaving out the expenditures on Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama budget is $534 billion, the Bush budget was $513 billion. Though the Obama budget has tried to shift toward more relevant program, my guess is there's still plenty of useless projects in that budget as well. Still, it is hopeful that the president and defense secretary have signaled they are at least ready to take on these issues at all.

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