Dems Caught Off Guard on Warplane Bill

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Despite a rejection by the Senate of F-22 warplane funding and despite veto warnings from the White House, the House Appropriations Committee took a remarkably quick vote approving a defense budget that added 12 additional warplanes to a fleet considered useless for unconventional warfare.

     The quick House vote apparently failed to take into consideration the Senate’s cut in F-22 funding. Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha planned to make the same cut in the House bill, “But I just couldn’t get it together fast enough.”
     The Senate voted 58-40 Tuesday to suspend the F-22 program when it lopped $1.75 billion off the defense bill.
     “If he’s starting to cave,” Gary Schmitt from the American Enterprise Institute said of Murtha during a phone interview, then the people wanting to cut F-22 funding “are more in the driver’s seat.” “This is an indication that the White House and Gates are more in control,” he said.
     The House version of the bill, pegged at $636 billion and approved by the House committee in just over 20 minutes, includes $369 million for 12 extra jets.
     The F-22 jet is prized by many for its stealth capability, its speed and range, and its air-to-air and its air-to-ground duel capacity. It “cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft,” reads a statement on the U.S. Air Force website.
      The F-22 is predominately a mid-air combat plane, and has not been used in Iraq or Afghanistan.
      Those who wish to cut funding say that additional planes are unnecessary, and they would not play a big role in today’s warfare which is primarily unconventional. Proponents argue that the nation must be prepared for all types of warfare.
      Wisconsin Democratic Chair David Obey warned of the administration’s threat. “They have made it quite clear that they intend to veto any bill containing funding for the F-22,” he said. President Barack Obama and Defense Sec. Robert Gates have called for a stop of the F-22 program after 187 planes are built.
      Cutting funding to the F-22 program is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to shift the military’s focus to unconventional wars, and to eliminate what it considers unnecessary costs.
      However, Republicans in Congress defend spending for the F-22 as necessary in case of war with countries that have warplanes, such as Iran and North Korea.
      “We don’t know what the threat might be tomorrow,” Florida Republican Bill Young said in defense of the F-22 program. He listed North Korea and Iran as possible future opponents, each of which has warplanes.
      “We ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Schmitt from AEI said when asked if the United States should shift its focus to unconventional warfare. He put his support behind the F-22 in mentioning that “A lot of weapon we buy and a lot of capability we buy isn’t for fighting wars. It’s for deterring wars.” He said the air superiority of the United States makes it difficult for other countries to even think of attacking it.
     He also undercut the argument that 187 F-22 jets are enough for the military. The number of jets that are combat ready can be much smaller, he argued.
     But Obama argued that now is not the time to splurge. “Every dollar of waste in our defense budget is a dollar we can’t spend to support our troops, or prepare for future threats, or protect the American people,” he said during a speech Tuesday in approval of the Senate vote to eliminate funding to new F-22 jets. “If more money goes to F-22s, it is our troops and citizens who lose.
     “At a time when we’re fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this would have been an inexcusable waste of money,” Obama added. “I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on outdated and unnecessary defense projects to keep this nation secure.”
     Murtha said at the end of the hearing that he plans to introduce an amendment on the House floor to divert the funds for new F-22 aircraft to instead pay for maintenance of the existing fleet.
     The budget also includes an increase in military pay of 3.4 percent.

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