Once upon a time, in a land very much like ours—America circa two months ago—an unprecedented thing happened: a majority of poll respondents came out in favor of cutting defense spending. As with all polling, there was a caveat, namely they only favored the cuts once they were informed how flippin’ much we were spending on defense. Via US News:
Respondents were given information about the size of the yearly defense budget in several ways. After digesting that data, in “three of the five cases a majority of respondents said that the size of the defense budget was more than they expected,” according to a study accompanying the poll results. “When asked for their conclusion, a large majority favored cutting defense.”
So that was May 16. On May 18, the tea partyized House of Representatives “voted to eliminate the sequestration part of the National Defense Authorization Act, bringing it in line with a previous House move on the Budget Control Act, all of which protects the defense budget from the threatened cuts.” Total number of days in the post World War II era in which Americans favored defense cuts: two. In fact, the final amount the House passed was actually a few billion dollars higher than Barack Obama’s proposed budget.
Yes, that was the same House that incited the debt ceiling debacle that created seuqestration in the first place, and that won’t accept a 10:1 spending-cuts-to-revenue-increase ratio. The sequestration would have cut just $55 billion from defense; for perspective’s sake, that’s only .02% of the Harry Reid’s proposal to cut $2.7 trillion from the deficit, which Republicans found laughably low. To justify keeping the defense spending, the House proposed $300 billion in cuts to domestic programs, including food stamps and women’s health care.
Yesterday, the Times informed us what we’re getting for our money:
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was supposed to prove that the Pentagon could build a technologically advanced weapon system within an affordable budget, without huge delays. After the aircraft turned into the Pentagon’s biggest budget buster, and performed disappointingly, the Obama administration tried to correct course in 2010. A new report last month by the Government Accountability Office showed that the problems had not been solved.
The Air Force, the Navy and the Marines plan to buy more than 2,400 F-35s through 2037. The accountability office now estimates the total cost of acquisition at nearly $400 billion, up 42 percent from the estimate in 2007; the price per plane has doubled since project development began in 2001. Cost overruns now total $1 billion.
The agency reported other problems as well. It said that the plane would not be in full production until 2019, a delay of six years, and that the small number of planes produced so far were being delivered, on average, one year late. The F-35’s overall performance in 2011 was described as “mixed.” There also have been difficulties integrating 24 million lines of software code into the complex computer system.
Meanwhile, the F-22 Raptor, the world’s costliest and most advanced stealth fighter jet, is also mired in performance problems. Over the past 18 months, there have been repeated cases in which pilots have suffered dizziness and disorientation from lack of oxygen in the planes, which cost $400 million each.
Pentagon budget cuts—which aren’t actually cuts, but merely reductions in the annual increase of the budget—are not some progressive pipe dream of America laying down its arms and funding school lunches. The cuts’ biggest proponent is former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who focused not on hacking away at America’s defense capacities, but on waste:
Gates announced today that, in the budget scrubs that got under way this past summer, the Air Force found $34 billion in waste and duplication that it was fine with cutting, the Army found $29 billion, and the Navy $35 billion—in all, $98 billion. (The various Department of Defense agencies not related to any service found an additional $54 billion to cut.)
Included in the waste Gates found? The F-22 Raptor.
There was a time when the tea party-ish elements of the Republican Party actually demonstrated some ideological consistency by including the defense budget along with social services in proposed budget cuts—though they often justified doing so by marrying defense cuts to an isolationist worldview—suggesting that no area, no matter how sacrosanct, was exempt from contributing to deficit reduction. Those days are gone. Now, conservatives openly endorse hundreds of billions of dollars in government waste while slashing social services in the name of austerity. What we all get for the trade: expensive, malfunctioning fighter jets.