Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bombshell Bipartisanship

Bipartisanship isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be – an antidote to congressional bickering that prevents Congress from getting anything done.

Bipartisanship is still alive and well in Congress, despite what pundits say. When it comes to the nation’s security or homeland security, liberals and conservatives often get along famously – joining together to defend the military-industrial complex, even against the Pentagon’s own initiatives to cut waste.

We saw this bipartisanship in sharp focus this month when Republican and Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee – chaired by shameless military-contractor shill Buck McKeon (R-Cal.) -- formed a common defense against the Department of Defense.

What DOD Secretary Robert Gates lambasted as government waste and pork, House members from both parties defended as government subsidies and waste.

Ranking member of the pork-laden Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat with a secure seat in El Paso, has joined with his Republican colleagues to resist Pentagon efforts to cut wasteful and outdated spending projects.

Reyes and U.S. Cong. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md) have teamed up to oppose cuts in the president’s 2012 budget and to remove those cuts in the budget markup process. Bartlett is the chair of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.

The F-35 stealth fighter program is a Pentagon favorite. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 Joint Strike Force program will cost the nation about $1 trillion dollars over the next fifty years, not counting the $385 billion already scheduled to purchase the fighters over the next twenty years.

Lockheed Martin is a top campaign donor to members of the Armed Forces Committee and its various subcommittees. The company, which is the country’s leading security contractor, ranks as the top donor to Reyes.

Following Lockheed Martin on the list of Reyes’ leading donors are SAIC, Raytheon, Honeywell, General Dynamics, Boeing, Hunt Companies, Mantech, Northrop Grumman, and L-3 Communications.

Lockheed Martin is also the leading contributor to Congressman Bartlett, whose top contributions come from the Defense Aerospace sector.

Despite the jaw-dropping price tag, the Pentagon stands behind the F-35 as a worthy (albeit pricey at $113 million each and a third more expensive to operate that existing similar fighters) upgrade and replacement of the F-16 and F-18 fighters.

But the Pentagon thinks it wasteful for Congress to continue its annual funding to develop two different engines for the same aircraft.

The administration’s 2012 budget slashed funding for this duplicative development and ordered work to stop on this duplicative development project that has cost $3 billion over the past 14 years.

YetReyes, along with Republicans on the subcommittee, has included budget markups to sustain the widely discredited alternative engine program, costing a million dollars every day. The duplicative engine is being developed by General Electric and Rolls-Royce, while the main engine project is contracted to Pratt and Whitney.

In May 2010 Gates spoke out against congressional initiatives supported by Reyes and his colleagues to support the second engine project:

The Bush administration opposed this engine. The Obama administration opposes it. We have recommended for several years now against funding this engine, considering it a waste of money. To argue that we should add another $3 billion in what we regard as waste…frankly, I don’t track the logic.

Attempting to find a logic in most military-industrial complex programs is a challenge, if one doesn’t acknowledge the central imperative guiding many congressional members – keep campaign donors happy and keep security dollars flowing to their districts.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, GE spent more on lobbying than any other company in the last decade.

The stated logic of the two-track F-35 engine project is that taxpayers will benefit from having two security contractors competing to develop a new propulsion engine because the competition will eventually bring the price down.

But most observers, other than GE representatives and the congressional members themselves, point out the F-35 program is monumentally expensive and there is no guarantee or reason to believe that the two-tracked engine development project will lead to cost savings. More waste and pork is the common observation.

Fighting to Keep Old Tanks Running

The same type of bipartisanship in support of duplicative engine projects for a trillion dollar fighter is also on display in the Reyes-Bartlett pork-driven markups in support of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Abrams tank.

This bipartisan deficit-building team is also resisting the Pentagon’s own efforts to cut the funding of these two tanks that date to the early days of the cold war. General Dynamics builds the Abrams tanks, while BAE Systems builds the Bradley Fighting Vehicles – both of which the Pentagon says are outdated and should be replaced by the Army’s high-priority Ground Combat Vehicle program.

It’s not that either Reyes or Bartlett oppose the Army’s GVS. It’s simply that they think we should also keep on producing the old tanks, too. In other words, the more military contracting the better, even though it may be wasteful, opposed by the military itself, and lacks any security justification.

According to Bartlett, echoing the General Dynamics lobbying team,

“The workers and companies in our industrial base supply chains can’t be turned off and on like a light switch….Our country has to maintain the capability to build and field modernized Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.”

For his part, Reyes long promoted the Pentagon’s controversial Future Combat Systems program, whose main contractor was Boeing, and resisted the Pentagon’s decision two years ago to terminate key FCS components – which directly benefitted the El Paso area through their development and testing at Ft. Bliss.

On May 3, Reyes boasted to his constituents not that he, as the ranking member of the main congressional oversight program for the military’s tactical air and land programs, is playing an instrumental role in cutting waste and pork.

Rather he announced that he been working to in increase the military budget – including a provision in the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that will “impact the El Paso region” through “$425 million in additional funding for the modernization of Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.”

For more information: 

Tom Barry, “Reyes the Rainmaker,” CIP Americas Program, September 2009, at:

Bill Hartung, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (New York: Nation Books, 2011).

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