Last Sunday, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote an entertaining but one-sided commentary about Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA) that complained Dicks is too close to Boeing. Dicks is so close to Boeing, the writer said, that making him chairman of the House Appropriations Committee amounts to “outsourcing” federal spending to the Chicago-based aerospace giant. No doubt about it, Norm likes Boeing. The company operates two of the biggest aircraft factories in the world within a stone’s throw of his Sixth Congressional District, and voters there generally benefit when Boeing does. But columnist Milbank provides no real evidence that Dicks has stepped beyond the boundaries of what you would expect from a congressman elected to represent the interests of his district.
Milbank says that Dicks has accepted $142,250 from Boeing since 1989, which works out to about $7,000 per year. The Supreme Court has recently affirmed that such contributions are fully consistent with constitutional principles, and the entire 20-year total of Boeing’s contributions is about what a well-paid lobbyist would make in one fiscal quarter in Washington. If Dicks wanted to make real money helping Boeing, he would have left Congress a decade ago. Milbank also cites the fact that Dicks received $84,000 over seven years from donors with ties to a discredited lobbying firm, and supported nine earmarks worth $20 million benefiting some of those donors. But the earmark amounts were quite modest, supporting an earmark isn’t the same thing as authoring it, and the connection between the contributions Dicks got and how he voted is unclear. Many earmarks have real military value. Besides, an investigation of members receiving such contributions found no significant wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Dicks.
The rest of the Milbank bill of particulars against Mr. Dicks is focused on the Air Force’s long-running tanker competition, which the columnist clearly doesn’t know much about. For instance, he cites Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) complaining that Dicks interfered in attempts to form a tanker team that could compete against Boeing, without mentioning that (1) Sessions has repeatedly interfered in the process on behalf of the European company heading the competing team and (2) Sessions more recently intervened in a warship competition to try to help a home state champion. Milbank also criticizes Dicks for seeking to overturn Boeing’s defeat in an initial round of tanker competition, but fails to explain the role of Senate Republicans in so thoroughly skewing the selection process that GAO said it needed to be redone. Milbank thinks the European bid in the first round would have been “cheaper,” which would have been quite a feat for a plane that burns over a ton more fuel than Boeing’s plane per flight hour.
Norm Dicks isn’t Mr. Boeing, he’s Mr. America. He always favors the American solution to a military or an economic problem over the foreign solution, because he believes that America needs to be strong and self-reliant. Those are the values you learn when your father is a shipyard worker and you grow up around farmers, loggers and people who work in aircraft factories. You respect people who work with their hands and you want to help them. Dana Milbank may think there’s something deeply troubling about the fact that a Congressman believes “what’s good for Boeing is good for the country,” but that’s the position that voters have elected Dicks to espouse in 17 straight elections — which is why he has now earned the seniority to be chairman of the full Committee on Appropriations. Boeing has made its share of mistakes over the years, but helping America’s biggest exporter to beat European competitors for a $40 billion Air Force contract at a time when the nation is running a daily trade deficit of over a billion dollars sounds like something that Jefferson and Hamilton would have had no trouble supporting.
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