This summer, the House of Representatives passed legislation to fund our military for the upcoming year. The Defense Authorization Bill is a critical part of keeping our armed forces ready to confront the challenges they will face around the world. Whether you agree with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or not, ensuring that our service members have the tools they need to get their jobs done and come home safely should be a priority for all Americans.
The Defense Authorization Bill includes two very controversial components. First, it repeals Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) against the wishes of the Pentagon and the Secretary of Defense. Second, it funds a second jet engine for the military's new warplane -- the Joint Strike Fighter -- against the wishes of the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense and President Obama.
President Obama has threatened to veto the entire bill because of the second jet engine. He and the Secretary of Defense say we don't need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a second engine when the one already being developed is probably good enough. This argument seems to make sense, especially in light of our growing budget deficit. But it's really more complicated than that. The non-partisan accounting and investigative arm of Congress, the General Accountability Office, has determined that having two competing engines is more costly in the short-term but will save money in the long-term, because competition will spur innovation. In fact, a bipartisan panel formed by Congress to find ways to reduce our defense budget recently testified on Capitol Hill that dual competition is key to keeping costs down for the Pentagon.
This disagreement between the President and Capitol Hill also means that the Democratically controlled Congress is on a collision course with the Obama administration, the Pentagon and the Secretary of Defense. What's even worse is that this disagreement will be between Democrats, not Republicans and Democrats. This will also happen right before the midterm elections in November -- elections that will determine who controls Congress.
Take it from a former member; controlling Congress is very, very important. Being in the majority allows chairmen of powerful committees like Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means and Financial Services to hold hearings and even subpoena witnesses. In other words, the party in power gets to control the agenda of Congress. Having a bunch of Republicans who won their seats in Congress with support from the Tea Party folks will not be a good thing for this country or Democrats.
I know the President believes that having a second jet engine is not something we can afford in a recession -- and that vetoing a defense bill containing a second engine is the right thing to do. But the President needs to trust the independent and non-partisan GAO which has found that a second jet engine will reduce costs for the engine program over time and spur innovation. After all, a showdown between the White House and Congressional Democrats won't be good for anyone in November ... except Republicans.
Ronnie Shows is a former Blue Dog Congressman from Mississippi.
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