As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Challenging The Status Quo

I'm going to try and get off Sanford Watch for just a moment, mainly because I'm reading the cringeworthy emails with most of my hand in front of my face. Because, despite the fact that it will get almost no media coverage, this is a pretty important statement from the Administration.

Preparing for a possible showdown with Congress, the White House on Wednesday threatened to veto legislation authorizing a $680 billion military budget if it contains money for jet fighters the Pentagon doesn’t want.

In a statement, the White House Office of Management and Budget said the $369 million that a House committee added to the bill as a downpayment for 12 additional F-22 fighters runs counter to the "collective judgment" of the military’s top leaders.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to end production of the radar-evading F-22 after 187 aircraft have been built. Last week, in a preview of the White House’s veto threat, Gates called the funding boost a "big problem." [...]

Another provision in the House bill the White House strongly objects to adds $603 million for a back-up engine intended for another fighter jet in development called the F-35. The committee says the alternative engine is needed in the event the primary propulsion system has problems that might ground the aircraft.

But the White House says the extra engine isn’t needed and will slow the fielding of the F-35, a single-engine aircraft to be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

The backstory is that the Defense Department and the White House signed off on these cuts to the military budget, so did the relevant leadership in the armed services, and so did THE MANUFACTURERS OF THE PRODUCTS. At the time I didn't consider it that big a deal, because a lot of this money gets shuttled around to other equipment, and the overall military budget remains unsustainably high, at a time when we're scrounging for funding to give people quality health care. But some parochial politicians, and considering that the F-22 gets supplies from 43 states they're practically ALL parochial when it comes to the war machines, stuck the funding back in, for weapons and equipment that the defense establishment doesn't want.

For the President to offer a veto threat, which to my recollection is the first veto threat of his Presidency, over ending the military-industrial complex gravy train is pretty significant. If we don't take the first step and restore the ability to end weapons systems, then the military budget will just grow and grow. Most politicians already consider it magic and unrelated to any other spending, even while they scold about "runaway budget deficits" in the same breath. The jobs argument attempted here is bogus, "weaponized Keynesianism", as Barney Frank called it. Building bridges and roads and a smart energy grid were the kinds of job-creating engines that all the fiscal scolds considered too expensive during the stimulus fight, but suddenly when defense is on the menu, they're all "jobs, baby, jobs." Those Blue Dogs who scream about budgets can now tell everyone why we can afford a plane that the Air Force doesn't need and the manufacturer doesn't even want to make.

The President's taking a small risk here. I can already hear the resurrection of Zell Miller demagoguing in 2012 about "what are we gonna use, spitballs?" But this represents the setting of a marker, one of the first I can remember, that our military budget is not sustainable, and as a first step we have to be able to wind down Cold War-era weapons systems that are completely inapplicable to the present day. Not many people have allowed themselves to publicly make this argument. So it deserves some credit.

The relevant parts of the statement from the White House OMB below.

The Administration supports House passage of H.R. 2647, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. The Administration appreciates the House Armed Services Committee's continued strong support of our national defense, including its support for the Department's topline budget requests for both the base budget and for overseas contingency operations.

The Administration appreciates, among other things, the leadership of the Committee in supporting many of the President's initiatives to terminate or reduce programs that have troubled histories, or that failed to demonstrate adequate performance when compared to other programs and activities needed to carry out U.S. national security objectives. In addition, the Administration welcomes the Committee's support for the Secretary of Defense's plan to increase the size of the civilian acquisition workforce and reduce the Department's reliance on contractors for critical acquisition functions. Also, the Administration appreciates that the Committee included authorities that are important to field commanders, such as the Commanders' Emergency Response Program and the authority to reimburse coalition partners.

While there are many areas of agreement with the Committee, the Administration nonetheless has serious concerns with a number of provisions that could constrain the ability of the Armed Forces to carry out their missions, that depart from Secretary Gates' decisions reflected in the President's Fiscal Year 2010 Budget which carefully balanced fiscal constraints, program performance, strategic needs and capabilities, or that raise other issues. The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to address these concerns, some of which are outlined below, and to refine this legislation to align it more closely with national defense priorities.

F-22 Advance Procurement: The Administration strongly objects to the provisions in the bill authorizing $369 million in advanced procurement funds for F-22s in FY 2011. The collective judgment of the Service Chiefs and Secretaries of the military departments suggests that a final program of record of 187 F-22s is sufficient to meet operational requirements. If the final bill presented to the President contains this provision, the President's senior advisors would recommend a veto.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program: The Administration strongly objects to the addition of $603 million for development and procurement of the alternative engine program, and the requirement for the Department to fund the alternative engine program in future budget requests to the President. These changes will delay the fielding of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) capability and capacity, adversely impacting the Department's overall strike fighter inventory. In addition, the Administration objects to provisions of the bill that mandate an alternative engine program for the JSF. The current engine is performing well with more than 11,000 test hours. Expenditures on a second engine are unnecessary and impede the progress of the overall JSF program. Alleged risks of a fleet-wide grounding due to a single engine are exaggerated. The Air Force currently has several fleets that operate on a single-engine source. The Administration also objects to the limit on the obligation of overall JSF development funding to 75% of the amount authorized until Department of Defense (DOD) has obligated all funds provided in FY 2010 for the alternative engine program. If the final bill presented to the President would seriously disrupt the F-35 program, the President's senior advisors would recommend a veto.

...Lorelei Kelly has more.

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