Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Permanent War Economy Electric Boogaloo

Beating swords into plowshares? Saxby Chambliss isn’t a fan:
An effort by Sen. Saxby Chambliss to force the Pentagon into buying more F-22 fighter jets is reviving tensions between the Georgia Republican and a stalwart in his own party, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Chambliss won narrow approval at a closed-door Senate Armed Services Committee markup for his amendment authorizing $1.75 billion to purchase seven F-22 Raptors from Georgia-based Lockheed Martin — despite strong objections from McCain, the ranking Republican on the panel, and a veto threat from President Obama.

This is corporate welfare for the war economy in a nutshell. Sen. Saxby Chambliss is trying to force us to spend $1.75 billion -- that’s with a B folks -- on a program the Pentagon doesn’t even want!

The F-22 is obsolete:

It is a cold war relic, designed for defense against the Soviet Union. It has never flown in combat, much less in the wars this country is actually fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Republicans and a handful of breakaway Democrats in Congress want to stay on the F-22 gravy train :

During the closed markup, Chambliss got support from three other Democrats and one Independent: Sens. Edward Kennedy (Mass.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.) — both voting by proxy — Mark Begich (Alaska) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Lieberman supports it because although Lockheed Martin assembles the F-22 in Marietta, Ga., the engines are built by Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut. I’d guess the other Senators have similar jobs incentives for keeping an obsolete fighter jet the Pentagon doesn’t want in production. After all, that is the point: that is why companies like Lockheed Martin spread their production around the country, to maximize their influence in Congress.

And it’s not just jobs: some in Congress have their personal fortunes at stake, too. For example, Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia, a vocal F-22 defender, owns stock in Boeing, Lockheed Martin’s partner in the F-22.

I’ve written about this issue before here. It would be nice if we could cut wasteful Pentagon programs that cost in the billions of dollars and transition that money to job-creating programs in the green energy sector, for example, or healthcare reform.

People need jobs. America needs to manufacture things. Would it be so hard to transition away from manufacturing an obsolete fighter jet to making solar panels and wind turbines? Heck, we transitioned from manufacturing consumer goods to manufacturing for war during World War II.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way anymore.

It’s not like the Pentagon has suddenly become all touchy-feely, we-are-the-worldy, everyone hold hands and sing Kumbaya. They simply wish to cap the F-22 fleet at 187 planes, which should be sufficient. Sec. Gates wants to transition production to the F-35 instead, also made by Lockheed Martin. This isn’t a cut in Pentagon spending at all, it’s just changing to a different kind of fighting weapon. And its controversial because people like Saxby Chambliss want to preserve jobs in their states.

One of these days, maybe a few centuries from now, we’re going to look back on an America that built its economy on war toys at a time when the people needed healthcare and clean energy. And we’re going to wonder what the hell were we thinking?

But for now, the permanent war economy rolls on.