The F-22 stealth fighter jets may no longer be needed, but its manufacturers, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, are lobbying aggressively to keep them in the defense budget. So far, they are succeeding.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates strongly opposes the program, saying that "the F-22 is, in effect, a niche, silver-bullet solution required for a limited number of scenarios." It isn't a question of money, either. "Frankly," he said, "if my topline were $50 billion higher I would make the same decision."
"This is not about national security," said Danielle Brian, executive director for the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). "Even the Pentagon doesn't want more F-22s. This is not about partisan politics -- Sen. McCain is leading the charge and President Obama is threatening to veto the entire defense authorization bill over it.
"This is about breaking the cycle of a corrupt military industrial complex. This vote decides whether there will be reform in Washington or not," Brian said.
Last month, the House approved an additional $1.75 billion for F-22s. The Senate is currently reviewing the authorization bill, and there are signals that it will pass.
In a study released Monday, POGO found that more senators are in favor of the program than are against.
On Wednesday, Sen. Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an opponent of the F-22 funding, postponed a vote to slash the $1.75 billion appropriation from the budget.
Lockheed and Boeing, the main beneficiaries, are deeply invested in the program and don't want to see it end. The two have spent $6.5 million and $2.4 million, respectively, to lobby Congress in 2009, according to the Center For Responsive Politics.
Obama has repeatedly threatened to veto the bill if it includes funding for more F-22s.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who represents the state where F-22s are built, is a leading advocate for the program. He has also received $69,600 in campaign contributions from Lockheed this year.
Some advocacy organizations are not looking kindly upon the news.
"Lockheed and Boeing are practicing the time-honored Washington tradition of spending big to influence and buy access to protect their bottom lines," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. "Until we get defense contractors and other special interests out of the business of paying for congressional campaigns," Edgar said, "we'll be making jets we don't need and spending billions of taxpayer dollars that could be better used for other critical needs like education and health care."