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Congress: Saving Money When It's Convenient

The House this week approved $485 million in funding for the development of a second back-up engine for the F-35 joint strike force fighter jet (shown here) -- even though the Pentagon doesn't want it -- while they refused to extend certain unemployment benefits, complaining it would add to the deficit. AP

Action over the last two days in Congress illustrates why it is that cutting the budget is so very difficult and why all claims of being a "deficit hawk" should be taken with a grain of salt.

In the House, Democratic leaders had to scramble to cut back an expensive bill with a hodgepodge of favorite programs after a group of conservative Democrats called "Blue Dogs" joined Republicans in saying it added too much to the deficit.

The bill included dozens of extensions of popular tax breaks for business and individuals. These include the research and development tax credit and others used by large numbers of companies, but also special tax breaks for real estate developers, businesses in American Samoa and the cotton industry.

None of these were cut.

What was cut from the bill to save money was a program that this year has helped millions of Americans who lost their jobs keep health insurance for their families, by paying a big chunk of the cost of COBRA insurance premiums.

You can make the argument that this is a nice program, but the country just can't afford it with such a huge deficit. But that becomes a much tougher argument if you look at what the House did on the very same day on the Defense Authorization bill. This huge Pentagon spending bill includes $485 million for continued development of a second back-up engine for the F-35 joint strike force fighter jet for the military.

The plane already has an engine, and the Pentagon has repeatedly said it doesn't need a second, totally different engine for the same plane and doesn't want it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has gone so far as to say he will ask President Obama to veto the entire Pentagon spending bill if the extra engine stays in. And yet 116 deficit-hating Republicans, and 115 Democrats who worry about the debt, voted to keep it in the bill and pay GE to build a jet engine nobody wants.

Bob Fuss CBS
Bob Fuss is CBS Radio News' Capitol Hill Correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.