All eyes will be on the Sotomayor hearings in the Judicairy Committee this week, but legislative action in the Senate continues to go on. The Senate is expected to spend just about the whole week on the FY10 Defense Authorization Act, which would authorize $679.8 billion for defense programs in Fiscal Year 2010, slightly less than what President Obama has requested.
There will likely be a long and varied list of amendments for the Senate to consider for the bill before voting on its final passage, but the most contentious issue will be $1.75 billion the bill currently authorizes for purchasing new F-22 Raptor fighter jets. Both President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates are against including the funds for new F-22s. They say that the 187 F-22s currently in the Air Force fleet are sufficient. President Obama has even threatened to veto the bill if it includes the funds, his first such threat since becoming President.
Travis at the Nukes of Hazard blog notes that “the F-22 Raptor has become a symbol of Secretary Gates's vigorous efforts to restore balance to U.S. defense policies and budgets.” Thus, the Administration sees Congress’ push to buy the new jets as a challenge to their attempt at reform.
The House passed their version of the bill, including the F-22 funds, last week on a 389-22 vote. As Avelino noted last week, the money for buying the jets was added to the House bill by the House Armed Services Committee on a razor-thin 31-30 vote.
Why, if the Obama Administration opposes it so strongly, is Congress insisting on including the F-22 funding in the bill? The answer probably lies in Congress’ connections to the jets’ manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and the role of that company in congressmen’s districts. Congress Daily ($) reports:
The Lockheed Martin fighter, which has work spread across 44 states, has significant support on Capitol Hill.
Indeed, 44 senators sent President Obama a letter just days before his inauguration in January imploring him to continue production of the F-22. They argued that the program, which employs 25,000 workers at 1,000 suppliers in 44 states, provides $12 billion in economic activity annually in the United States.
The senators’ argument for the jets is based on economic stimulus, but there is also the less wholesome campaign financing angle that is worth looking at, for which I will direct you to the company’s Open Secrets profile.
Both Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin [D, MI] and Ranking Member Sen. John McCain [R, AZ] are opposed to funding the new F-22s, and they have introduced an amendment to take the money out of the bill. In a letter sent separately to both McCain and Levin today, Obama asked for their support in stripping the F-22 money from the bill on the Senate floor. The letter (.pdf), in part, reads:
As Secretary Gates and the military leadership have determined, we do not need these planes. That is why I will veto any bill that supports acquisition of F-22s beyond the 187 already funded by Congress.
In December 2004, the Department of Defense (DoD) determined that 183 F-22s would be sufficient to meet its military needs. This determination was not made casually. The Department conducted several analyses which support this position based on the length and type of wars that the Department thinks that it might have to fight in the future, and an estimate of the future capabilities of likely adversaries. To continue to procure additional F-22s would be to waste valuable resources that should be more usefully employed to provide our troops with the weapons that they actually do need.
I urge you to approve our request to end the production of the F-22.
This is sort of a classic Executive-Congressional dispute, with the Administration focused on the big-picture policy and Congress focused on the effects of the policy on their districts, states and campaign coffers. The 44 Senators who signed the letter in support of the F-22 funding are more than enough to defeat a Levin-McCain amendment to strip the funding from the bill. On the Senate floor today, McCain said that he does not believe that he and Sen. Levin have the votes to pass their amendment. At this point, the only hope for the Administration, as McCain said, is that Obama’s letter has a “significant impact on [his] colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”