It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. While senators worry about how to pay for health care reform, threatening the best chance at achieving universal coverage in decades, forty of them nonetheless voted to keep the F-22 fighter plane in production yesterday. Hats off, and fiscal kudos to, the 58 senators who voted to stop production of the planes. And, to President Obama who threatened to veto the defense spending bill if it included money for more of the planes.
This was no swipe at the Pentagon by liberal Democrats. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, appointed by President George W. Bush and asked to stay on by President Obama, led the effort to kill the F-22. Why? Because it is not needed. The plane was designed for a Cold War confrontation with Soviet jets. But the Cold War is over, there is no more Soviet Unions and the F-22 was ill-suited for the counter-insurgency fighting the Pentagon has to undertake in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lockheed-Martin, which makes the F-22, did not become a successful company by being stupid. The parts for the F-22 were made at different plants across the country so that they could build political support for the program. No congressman or senator wants to see jobs lost in his district, especially now when the economy is in the tank.
At a time when everyone is genuinely concerned about rising deficits and the need to find money for health care reform, building planes that the Pentagon does not want sure seems like the height of stupidity or hypocrisy, take your pick. Certainly, any of the 40 senators who voted to keep the F-22 in production (14 Democrats and 26 Republicans) should be barred from saying anything about "wasteful government spending" for at least a year.
I hope that the White House and the 58 senators who voted the correct way yesterday will keep examining the Pentagon budget. As we debate health care reform, it is good to remember that if President Bush had listened to Pope John Paul II and not gone to war in Iraq, we would have sufficient funds to reform the health care system. There are other weapons systems that are hold-overs from the Cold War that can and should be scrapped. Yes, the job loss is worrisome, especially because many of those who work on Pentagon projects are highly skilled engineers and mechanics, but how much better to put those men and women to working making better rail and subway systems, or rebuilding other basic infrastructure needs, or creating wind farms and other renewable energy projects. There are a lot of things to be done to improve America but building planes we don’t need is not one of them.