February 10, 2009

The F-22 as Stimulus

Those of you who still read the paper copy of the Washington Post in the morning could not have helped but notice the full-page color advertisement for the F-22 in today's front section. The really interesting thing about the advertisement was that it made the case for the F-22 based upon two things:

1. National Security
2. American Jobs

And this, folks, is why the F-22 is never ever going away. Because at this stage, it's defenders have all but abandoned the increasingly laughable idea that manned aircraft is the way of the future and have begun to call the F-22 what it actually is: a massive federal jobs program. I'm sure some of you noticed this op-ed in the Sunday Washington Post by two defense analysts at AEI:

If he decides to terminate the F-22, Obama will, in effect, be firing the 25,000 people who directly work on the Raptor program (and the initial "stop-work" orders and layoffs would begin within months) and perhaps another 50,000 to 75,000 in the supplier base that supports it. His administration will also forgo any chance of selling the planes to allies -- Japan, Australia and Israel, among others -- and any additional return on the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars spent in developing this dominant fighter.

The F-22 program also illustrates how defense spending could build bipartisan support if it were included in the stimulus package. The push to postpone the decision until the new administration resulted from a congressional initiative led by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), the heads of the defense appropriations subcommittees. A Jan. 20 letter to the president from Sens. Saxby Chambliss (the conservative Republican from Georgia, where the main production line for the F-22 is located) and Patty Murray (the fifth-ranking Senate Democrat, who is from Washington, the home of one of the program's main suppliers, Boeing) generated 44 co-signers. Compared with research on sexually transmitted diseases (now thankfully out of the stimulus package), this is spending that won't embarrass moderate Democrats and would appeal to conservative Republicans.

The thing is, even for a guy like me -- who has been critical of spending our money on not just one but two new fighter-interceptors when we're in a budget crunch and fighting two low-tech wars -- this makes sense. If you're trying to trim the defense budget and focus on the wars we're actually fighting, spending as much money as we have spent on the F-22 is embarassing. But if you're trying to stimulate the economy and you've decided budget deficits don't matter in the near term, there are many worse ways to preserve jobs than by spending money on the F-22. The only irony is watching all these free market, fiscal conservatives suddenly find their inner Karl Marx and go all command economy on us when it comes to big defense programs.