It was Democrats who stuffed an estimated $524 million in defense earmarks that the Pentagon did not request into the 2008 appropriations bill, about $220 million more than Republicans did, according to an independent estimate. Of the 44 senators who implored Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in January to build more F-22 Raptors -- a fighter conceived during the Cold War that senior Pentagon officials say is not suited to probable 21st-century conflicts -- most were Democrats.
And last July, when the Navy's top brass decided to end production of their newest class of destroyers -- in response to 15 classified intelligence reports highlighting their vulnerability to a range of foreign missiles -- seven Democratic senators quickly joined four Republicans to demand a reversal. They threatened to cut all funding for surface combat ships in 2009.
But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) defended the Democrats' record on defense spending. "This kind of spending can play an important role in our ongoing effort to improve critical national defense programs," Jim Manley said.
"A lot of these weapon systems that are big-ticket items now have no purpose," said William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank. "The Taliban doesn't have an air force. China and Russia are at least a generation behind us. So at a time when we're talking about developing unmanned aerial vehicles and want to increase our special forces, we ought to be making a clean sweep of these systems that were built during the Cold War."
Tens of thousands of jobs directly related to the F-22, for example, are spread among 44 states, a point emphasized in a letter of support for the program signed by 194 House members on Jan. 21. The fighter was conceived in the mid-1980s, and even though Gates said last year its production should end at a fleet of 183, a bipartisan group of lawmakers appropriated $523 million as a down payment on parts to build 20 more in 2010.
"The F-22 decision is an important national security decision with ramifications for the next 30 years," said Jeff Adams, a spokesman for Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin, its manufacturer, noting that the Air Force still says it needs more planes.
Each aircraft now costs about $145 million, and senior defense officials note that the plane has not been used in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Although the F-22 is built as an air-superiority fighter, the U.S. military has not faced a serious dogfight threat since the Vietnam War, one of the officials said. The signatories to the Jan. 16 Senate letter supporting the additional planes included Vice President Biden, then still a Democratic senator from Delaware, Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
The impact of the shift was pronounced in the two committees that control military spending in the House, where Democrats collected 63 and 66 percent, respectively, of all defense industry funds given to committee members in that cycle. The champion was defense appropriations subcommittee Chairman John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who collected $743,275 of the industry's money; second place was held by Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who collected $268,799, according to the center's tally.
Murtha also joined other Democrats -- including Boxer -- in adding billions of dollars to the war budget for 15 Boeing C-17 cargo planes that the Pentagon did not request. "We have said we have enough" of the C-17s, the senior defense official said. "But members keep adding them to every spending bill, every opportunity they can find." Taxpayers for Common Sense calls the persistent funding "a gift to Boeing." Boeing spokesman Douglas J. Kennett says that the program's cancellation would cost "over 30,000 jobs with over 600 aerospace suppliers."
Three of Reid's Democratic colleagues -- Kennedy, Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.) -- also helped add almost a billion dollars to the Pentagon budget over the past two years for continued production of an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, though the Pentagon said in 2007 that the engine is unnecessary. The plane is already $55 billion over its budgeted cost, according to the Government Accountability Office. The engine is being developed and built by General Electric and Rolls Royce in Massachusetts, Vermont, Indiana and other states; its production team says the engine will offer more flexibility for the fighter pilots if it is installed.
Kennedy also joined Sens. John F. Kerry (Mass.), James Webb (Va.), Herb Kohl (Wis.) and other Democrats in demanding funding for the third, unwanted DDG-1000 Navy destroyer. "The world has changed markedly since we began the march to DDG-1000 in the early 1990s," Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said in January, explaining why he sought to cancel the ship in favor of building more of a smaller, cheaper and older alternative vessel.
Intelligence reports have warned that the ship will be unable to fend off missile threats, including an advanced missile being developed by China and simple ones already possessed by Hezbollah. As a result, the Navy agreed to end production of the hard-to-hide 14,000-ton vessels, capping the program at two ships instead of seven.
A Kennedy aide said of the senators' joint letter to the Pentagon that "we'd like to think that it played a big role in changing their mind." He confirmed that Raytheon, which makes the destroyer's electronic components in Massachusetts, had contacted Kennedy's office about keeping the ship in production. But, he added, "we don't do Raytheon's bidding."
Savor that last comment--we don't do Raytheon's bidding--as you recall that the Deputy Secretary of Defense in charge of the Pentagon, William Lynn, is a former Raytheon lobbyist.
The military/industrial complex has metasticized.
Those of you out there arguing for single-payer health care better get a grip on these two facts:
1) American defense contractors have absolutely no problems providing first-rate health care for their employees.
2) If it comes down to a choice between funding new F-22s or the DDG-1000 and health care for 45 million Americans, it's no contest: we'll get new planes and ships.