The threat of White House retribution doesn’t seem to be stopping legislators from adding money for programs that the Pentagon opposes. House appropriators added $485 million to the fiscal 2010 defense budget for presidential helicopters that President Obama wanted to kill — an add that will probably survive House-Senate conference now that Rep. Hinchey (D-NY) has discovered the likely alternative costs three times what the existing program does. Money was also added by the House for an “alternate engine” on the F-35 joint strike fighter — an item so expensive that the President threatened to veto the entire defense bill. And members seem to be headed towards appropriation of money for as many as ten more C-17 cargo planes, on top of the eight already funded in the 2009 supplemental war appropriation.
This clearly is not a Congress that is impressed by budget deficits — at least, not when it comes to funding programs with strong constituent interest. In the case of C-17, the per-plane cost has increased from $210 million to $260 million, which is several times what it costs to hang new engines on the larger C-5. Of course, the C-17 is a better plane in many ways — probably the best airlifter ever built. But operational merit isn’t why the helicopter, or the engine, or the airlifter are prevailing in Congress. It’s all about jobs and votes. Maybe next year the Obama White House will have learned that lesson, and stopped squandering political capital offending its own electoral base.
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