A Small Victory
The F-22 fighter is built in 44 states. The military contractors who build it and provide supplies spend many millions in lobby costs. Armed Services Committee appropriators in particular get slathered in special interest money and reward their contributors with as many contracts as possible. The overall trajectory of military spending since World War II is that the military part of the budget is magic and we can spend whatever we want on it. As a result, we spend more on the weapons and tools of war than every other country on Earth, combined.
So it's not every day that a major weapons program gets phased out through the appropriations process. It happened today, as 58 Senators voted to cancel additional spending on the F-22 fighter, a plane which the Pentagon doesn't want, which the Air Force doesn't want, which hasn't flown a single mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which has been found in tests to be vulnerable to rain.
It was a parochial vote that had more to do with whether a Senator's state builds major portions of the F-22 than anything else. And it will not signal any kind of near-term sea change in the military budget, which will increase this year. A lot of the F-22 money will just re-route into other fighters like the F-35 and unmanned aerial drones. But there's a symbolic significance here. The President and the Secretary of Defense took on the military-industrial complex by threatening to veto the entire defense bill if this funding stayed intact, and in this case they won. If we're ever going to break their stranglehold on the process, we have to win this kind of vote. Over time, we may even have a President that says "hey, it's kind of insane to spend more on the military than every other country combined" - don't laugh, it could happen - and by showing the ability to cancel weapons projects like this, it will be easier for that future President to maneuver. And I particularly like some of the language Obama used in his comments about this, saying that our budget is a zero-sum game and our "citizens lose" if more money goes to unnecessary weapons systems. With all the talk from the fiscal scolds, there is an opportunity to channel that toward a military budget full of bloat and waste.
It's a good first step, nothing more. But showing we can get by without weapons systems designed for the Cold War is important.
...some additional good news here. Though he voted against stripping the funding, Robert Byrd took a vote on the bill. We've been hearing with respect to health care that Democrats really only have 58 Senators, due to two ill members. Byrd is now back and voting. And you cannot tell me that wild horses could keep Ted Kennedy from a health care vote. The Democrats will have 60 votes. What they do with them is their choice.