Congress to Military: Take More F-22s. We Insist.

(AP)
President Obama's reiterated Wednesday that he is prepared to veto the 2010 defense appropriations bill if the version that crosses his desk authorizes $1.75 billion in funding to continue building F-22 Stealth Fighters, also known as Raptors.

With the cost of building one new F-22 coming in at just under a quarter billion dollars, that's enough for seven more planes.

As the White House notes in a statement, "the collective judgment of the Service Chiefs and Secretaries of the military departments determined that a final program of record of 187 F-22s is sufficient to meet operational requirements."

Though some Air Force leaders have suggested that more F-22s are needed, the White House's point seems difficult to argue: As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted in February, "the reality is we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater."

On Monday, the president wrote a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee stating flatly, "we do not need these planes."

"To continue to procure additional F-22s would be to waste valuable resources that should be more usefully employed to provide our troops with weapons that they actually do need," he wrote.

Gates, who would prefer to build F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, has been pushing for a shift in focus of military spending toward counterinsurgency preparedness. He calls the F-22 "a niche, silver-bullet solution required for a limited number of scenarios."

Yet members of both parties in Congress are pushing through funding for the F-22s. The reason? Jobs. Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the plane, says 95,000 jobs would be lost in a variety of states if F-22s stop being built. The company has spent millions lobbying to keep the airplane in production, according to National Public Radio.

Republicans Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, whose party has been railing against Democrats for wasteful spending, have been pushing hard to fund the F-22s. Chambliss argued on the Senate floor yesterday that it is up to lawmakers – not the military – what gets funded. He acknowledged that many of the jobs lost if production ended would be in his home state.

The leading Senate opponent of funding the F-22s is also a Republican: 2008 GOP presidential nominee and Arizona Sen. John McCain. "We cannot argue that we should spend taxpayers' dollars for weapons systems simply to create or keep jobs," he said, adding that Congress will work to provide employment opportunities to those who lose their jobs.

McCain and Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, who head the Armed Services Committee, have been pushing an amendment to get the F-22 funding killed. But they retreated Wednesday, with Levin saying the amendment "was temporarily withdrawn because we couldn't get to a vote."

Indeed, there are not clear party lines when it comes to the F-22: The Bush administration also tried to kill it, and many Democrats are siding with Chambliss and supporting the funding. One defense analyst told NPR that there may not even be enough votes in the Senate to keep a presidential veto from being overturned.

The $1.75 billion in F-22 funding is, amazingly enough, actually just a giant drop in a gargantuan bucket: The total price tag on the fiscal year 2010 defense bill is $679.8 billion.

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