Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bipartisan Senate vote kills the F-22

In this age of party-line votes, a very interesting vote came about in the Senate today.

At issue was $1.75 billion to build seven more F-22 fighters. We now have 87 of them and the Pentagon agrees with the administration that we don't need any more. The plane has not been used on a single sortie in Iraq or Afghanistan, and it has become the epitome of the modern-military industrial complex-- a hugely expensive piece of military hardware that we are practically bursting at the gills with now and which even the military wants more of about as much as they want more saddles for horse-mounted cavalry units. The Obama administration felt so strongly about this program and how useless the F-22 is that the President issued his first veto threat if this were to remain in the defense authorization bill.

In fact, the only reason the F-22 has lasted this long is that it is produced by Lockheed-Martin which employs production workers in most states.

The debate today focused largely on economics-- the economics of laying people off during a recession.

I can certainly understand that argument but my response would be why Senators who protested loudly about jobs (like Georgia's Saxby Chambliss, in whose state the largest number of workers are located) didn't feel that way back when we were talking about the stimulus. Ironically, a co-sponsor of the measure to delete the funding for the F-22's, Carl Levin of Michigan (along with John McCain, who considers the F-22 to be a waste of money and a detriment to the military) is from a state where thousands of auto workers only have a job today because of massive Government intervention in GM and Chrysler, jobs that Chambliss wanted to see disappear.

However, while one can make a case for saving jobs at automobile factories that make a product that people will use, it is hard to make a similar case for saving jobs at a factory producing an aircraft that few people will ever fly and which has so many problems that it has never actually been flown in a war zone.

The vote in the Senate reflects the confused politics of the F-22. The roll call vote was 58-40 to kill the plane. Democrats voted 42-14 to kill it. Republicans voted to keep making the plane, but by 25-15. The Senate's two independents were also split, with Bernard Sanders wanting to ax the F-22 program and Joe Lieberman in favor of continuing to build it.

Ultimately killing the program was the right thing to do. It is hard to get action sometimes in a body where so many competing interests are at work but I commend the Senate for this vote. And it is a reminder that every now and then a bipartisan coalition will form to do the right thing.

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