Free Markets, Free People

Lockheed Martin C-5


Sen. Boxer’s Rebellion

[This post originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on August 30, 2010.]

If there is one thing that Congress has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s that spending other people’s money is easy. What makes it even easier is when they spend it on favored constituents in order to buy votes, even where the product purchased by the government isn’t wanted or needed.

Take the example of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster, a cargo transport aircraft, which is manufactured in Long Beach, California. While the plane is one of the military’s best workhorses (especially for forward deployments), the Air Force insists that it has plenty, more than enough in fact, and would really rather not purchase any more. Sen. Barbara Boxer, however, has other plans:

Locked in a tough re-election campaign, Sen. Barbara Boxer dropped by Boeing’s C-17 plant Friday [August 20, 2010] to pledge continued federal support for one of California’s largest manufacturers.

A crowd of cheering workers greeted Boxer at the site next to Long Beach Airport, where more than 5,000 design, build, market and sell the $250 million jet.

Boxer has remained one of the C-17 Globemaster’s strongest supporters on Capitol Hill since production began in the early 1990s, voting for all of the 223 jets so far ordered for the U.S. Air Force.

[...]

Before departing, Boxer promised the roughly 250 C-17 workers in attendance she would continue supporting the jet in Congress.

“I cannot tell you how proud I am that we have surpassed 200 planes, and that this magnificent aircraft is being built right here in California by American workers,” she said. “The only place the C-17 should ever be built is in California.”

To borrow a certain, infamous turn-of-phrase, they told me if I voted for John McCain I would be supporting the Military Industrial Complex, and they were right!

Well, that’s not entirely fair since, in reality, the Obama administration has been quite adamant that they’ve had quite enough C-17’s, thank you very much, and really don’t want anymore.

[In the end of June], the Obama Administration C-17 Challengers, led by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, continued to land blow after blow in the annual boxing match over the fate of the C-17 and the 5,000 Long Beach workers who assemble the big jets. The Obama Administration wants to end production after the 223 which are already in service or in the pipeline. Boeing, its friends in congress and everywhere else are doing everything they can to continue building the profitable four engine advanced airlifters.

In order to force the sale on the Air Force, Congress is threatening to include provisions ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the appropriation bill, forcing a painful veto decision on the White House. That does not seem to be changing the administration’s mind, however:

On Sunday [June 20, 2010], Gates was asked about the C-17 in an interview on Fox News by CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR. Here are the relevant excerpts:

WALLACE: As part of your new drive to try to cut the budget for non- combat operations, has the president agreed to veto any bill that would include continued funding for the C-17 cargo plane or an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, even if that legislation also included repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

GATES: Well, as I told the Senate Appropriations Committee, the defense subcommittee, this week, it would be a very serious mistake to believe that the president would not veto a bill that has the C-17 or the alternative engine in it just because it had other provisions that the president and the administration want.

WALLACE: Have you been given an assurance by the president that he will enforce his feelings, your feelings, about the budget even at the expense of social policy?

GATES: Well, I think the White House has put out a very strong statement in support. I would also just say that I don’t go way out on a limb without looking back to make sure nobody’s back there with a saw.

WALLACE: So you think that they veto the bill even with repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

GATES: I think so.

The Obama administration has repeated its promise to veto any bill purchasing more C-17’s since then. Nevertheless, Sen. Boxer keeps pushing for the purchase despite the fact that, according to a defense industry insider, the Air Force already has more of the aircraft than it needs (223 purchased vs. 205 or less required, which is backed up by this 2008 GAO report), and may have a cheaper alternative in modernization of the complementary C-5 Galaxy aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

Whatever the merits of the C-5 vs. the C-17, the Air Force and Department of Defense have been quite clear that they no longer want purchase the C-17, and the GAO concluded in 2008 that the C-17 program would have to end in the near term (slated to being next month), regardless of what some in Congress wanted.

The real story here is that leaders such as Sen. Boxer continue to be oblivious to what their duties actually are. She and her congressional colleagues persist in using taxpayer money to fund projects intended to keep them in power, but which add nothing to general welfare of the country. Will purchasing more C-17’s save jobs in Long Beach? Yes, but only for a little while, and only at the expense of more productive uses of the workers’ time (i.e. creating something that is actually wanted and needed). Meanwhile the appropriation costs taxpayers plenty and they get no benefit from it.

So long as our leaders in Washington continue to spend our money for their own benefit, and that of their friends, we will have ballooning deficits and a decreasingly productive economy. judging from the growing clamor of voices, such as in the Tea Party movement, the electorate gets that. Our tax dollars are not for keeping the already powerful entrenched. The real question is, when will Sen. Boxer and her friends in Washington finally figure it out?