After years of rubberstamping even the most ridiculously expensive and unnecessary allocations to enrich defense contractors — and in so doing extend the reach of the military-industrial complex about which former President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned — the US Senate on Tuesday actually rejected a useless military spending scheme.
As part of the broader debate over the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, the Senate voted by a 58-40 margin in favor of Michigan Democrat Carl Levin’s proposal to strike $1.75 billion in funding for more F-22 fighter jets.
Designed in response to the fantasy that the US Air Force would be fighting high-tech dogfights with Soviet fighter jets, the F-22 has never been flown in combat or deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
But, until now, Congress had continued to allocate cash — in multi-billion-dollar increments — to Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor that, using comic-book and video-game marketing, dubs the jet fighters “Raptors.”
An individual F-22 costs more than $350 million to build, and according to conservative estimates would cost over $44,000 per hour to fly.
Instead of paying for new and unnecessary airplanes, the Senate instead directed that the money be used to restore operation and maintenance, military personnel, and other funding that was reduced in order to authorize the F-22 boondoggle.
Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, a cosponsor of the Levin amendment who has long been a critic of bloated Pentagon spending — and of the failure of Congress to budget responsibly when it comes to military matters — said: “The Senate’s passage of this amendment is a victory for the Armed Forces and American taxpayers. Now defense dollars can be freed up to address real world threats and fill gaps in our defense capabilities. I applaud (supporters of the amendment) and the administration for their leadership on this effort to help ensure that we are spending our defense dollars wisely.”
The move to cut the F-22A procurement, which was backed by President Obama (who threatened to veto a defense appropriation bill that included money for more of the planes), drew bipartisan support.
Levin, the veteran chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was joined in sponsoring the anti-pork proposal by Arizona Republican John McCain. McCain described the F-22 program as “What Eisenhower Warned Us About.”
The 2008 Republican presidential nominee actually hailed the Obama administration for helping secure support for the amendment, which McCain described as “probably the most impactful amendment that I have seen in this body on almost any issue.”
Fifteen Republicans, including McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, joined 42 Democrats and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders in supporting the amendment.
Matt Holland, Pentagon Budget Campaign Director for USAction/TrueMajority, hailed the vote as a signal that, despite the considerable amount of influence defense contractors wield, some members of Congress to examine wasteful Pentagon spending.
“Common sense wins out,” declared Holland. “Now we will see if House members get the message. The old ways are dead, and from here on out voters will be scrutinizing the Pentagon budget to scrub wasteful and obsolete weapons systems.
USAction/TrueMajority, which has built a “True Security” coalition to oppose wasteful defense spending, made defeating the F-22 fighter jets a top priority this year. They attracted support from VoteVets, Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Common Cause, Physicans for Social Responsibility, Women’s Action for New Directions and other organizations.
Now the coalition is moving to convince the House to reject the Raptor.
A new radio ad urging Florida Republican Bill Young, a key player when it comes to defense spending and a major recipient of defense-contractor contributions, to oppose the F-22 procurement.
The ad features Mike Burns – a US Air Force pilot and POW during the Vietnam War who spent years in the same ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison camp as Senator McCain – who says, “This is one of the most worthless and unnecessary programs and we’ve spent 30 years dumping money into it,” Burns says in the ad, “I’m asking Congressman Young to vote against [the F-22]. Be a lion, not a gopher for Lockheed Martin.”