By Julianne Malveaux
Even as our legislators grapple with impeachment, they are also charged to pass a dozen budget bills, including a bill on “defense.” Recent elections suggest a paradigm shift in the way we view budget spending, what with Democrats taking charge in both Virginia and Kentucky (I’m not counting Mississippi, Dems aren’t likely to capture that one until lightning strikes). Some are suggesting that the government might shut down if Congress can’t get its act on the budget together in the next couple of weeks. Alternatively, Congress might look differently at our priorities.
A post-Trump America might include a Green New Deal, Medicare- for-All, and free or subsidized higher education. These programs cost. How will we pay for them? One place to look for massive government waste is in the Pentagon, which has too frequently couched in “national defense” but is nothing more than the government providing massive profits for inefficient corporations who have well-paid and highly effective lobbyists.
The $1.5 trillion budget for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program is an excellent place to start. Tom Pennington at Truthout.org was spot on when he wrote in a piece titled “The F-35 Fighter Jet Will Cost $1.5 Trillion. It’s Time for New Priorities” on April 11, 2019. The article opened with “It began with such promise, too, as far as airborne weapons of mass destruction go. First conceived by Lockheed Martin in 1997 and built in collaboration with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, the F-35 first took wing in 2006. The all-purpose fighter was intended to stand as the replacement for the A-10 Warthog, F-15E Eagle, the F-16 Falcon, the AV-8B Harrier, and the F/A-18 Hornet.” The plan was for this aircraft to be everything to everybody in the Air Force, and this would replace all other fighter jets.
This idea was great on paper, but not so good when they started to build the F-35s. Pennington wrote, “It did not take long for a series of fantastically pricey problems to pile up. The production plan had the planes being built before all the highly technical, often brand-new systems had been tested. When these began failing, fixing them in an aircraft that had already come off the production line rapidly turned the program into a financial sinkhole. The eight million lines of code that make up the software controlling vital elements like the aft tails, electronic warfare systems, and flight control were bursting with bugs and subject to malicious hacks. The helmets were too big. The ejection seats didn’t work. The four-piece wings met with assembly difficulties, and the supporting bulkheads suffered from structural fatigue. The plane itself was 2,000 pounds too heavy.”
Those problems were merely the start of challenges that bring us to today where the aircraft has been seldom used and is way over budget. And we are spending $1.5 trillion for that when we could use that money to feed people, provide education, and provide environmental relief? Who are the lobbyists pushing this ill-advised investment?
If you believe President Trump (and I don’t), we will be spending less money overseas in the upcoming years. The Balance reported on June 15, 2019, that “the war in Afghanistan began in 2001 and has cost the U.S. $975 billion, including estimates for 2019,” yet the number grows even more when taking into account increases in the base budgets for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The George W. Bush administration launched the war in Afghanistan and the War on Terror in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaida. The United States attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan for hiding al-Qaida’s leader, Osama bin Laden. In addition to the $975 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds specifically dedicated to the war, the base budget for the Department of Defense has increased by about $250 billion, and the Department of Veterans Affairs budget has increased by more than $50 billion. Some of these costs also are attributable to the War in Iraq. There is another pot of money that could be used to make Americans healthy and to help them out of poverty.
Taking one year off from the F-35 and ending the overseas wars would pay for the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-All, and free higher education for all.
If Democrats prevail in 2020, and Progressives rule Washington come 2021, we will need a comprehensive effort to push our priorities in the face of right-wing obstructionism. Those who talk about waste, fraud, and abuse cannot defend the $1.5 trillion F-35 and overseas wars that are costing lives and taxpayer money. If deficit hawks are so opposed to the rapidly increasing deficit, why can’t they slash the government contracting that is directly taking away money that could be used to help the poor and underemployed?
The F-35 is being funded in the name of “national defense,” but it is a national offense for an unnecessary, inefficient boondoggle to absorb $1.5 trillion that could be much more appropriately spent. After the F-35 has proven ineffective, it is unconscionable that some legislators are willing to continue to fund it. Let’s eat our losses and move on. Let’s direct these precious funds to the hungry, those who clamor for education, and those who want a more sustainable future for our nation. And let’s draw a line in the sand on useless “defense” spending that simply enriches profit-maximizing manufacturers.
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest project MALVEAUX! On UDCTV is available on YouTube.com. For booking, wholesale inquiries or for more info, visit www.juliannemalveaux.com.