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One Stimulus That Makes Sense

The Congress and President Obama are in a full scale battle over the so-called stimulus bill. Much of what is at issue is whether the spending is really stimulative to the economy and whether the nearly $900 billion bag of goodies are in the long-term interest of the country. Meanwhile, a project which is in the nation's long-term interest and could save 95,000 jobs may go by the wayside.

Recently, Tom Donnelly wrote an article in the Weekly Standard advocating defense spending as a more effective stimulus than much of the domestic pork under consideration by Congress. He wrote:

Defense investments also meet the definition of a sensible stimulus according to mainstream economists: Government should spend where private resources are slack; though the defense industry was trimmed down in the 1990s, there is tremendous excess capacity in major sectors like aircraft and shipbuilding. Defense spending would also meet other critical benchmarks. . .  Major programs depend upon a nationwide manufacturing base. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor on the F-22 fighter, but the program is the effort of 1,000 suppliers who employ 95,000 people -- including an efficient, unionized manufacturing workforce -- in 44 states.

The F-22s are intended to replace an aging fleet of other aircraft models, many of which are more than 30 years old. These aircraft are intended to perform multiple functions and, the Air Force contends, are the most effective aircraft to operate in "high threat" environments. If, for example, the military were ever tasked with the assignment to knock out Iranian nuclear facilities or to establish a no-fly zone in Georgia, the F-22 would be the aircraft to do it.

In the case of the F-22s there is a looming deadline of March 1. The 2009 Defense Authorization Act requires the president to certify that continued production of the F-22s is in the national interest. Unless he does so, the F-22 will cease production, suppliers will shut down, and layoffs will commence. It is not surprising that there is broad-based concern that the White House may let the program terminate -- and with it, tens of thousands of jobs.

The program is expensive (each aircraft carries a $140M price tag) and has encountered high-level objections from, among other people, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who contends the F-35 is an equivalent aircraft at less cost. (The Air Force and some independent experts disagree with this assessment.)

Even critics of the F-22 argue that whatever reservations they might have had originally do not necessarily lead to the conclusion we should pull the plug now. Max Boot explains: "But to say that we might have been better off not building the F-22 is not to say that we should now cancel it amid an economic downturn in which policymakers are desperate to keep workers working."

And there is little dispute that the F-22 is its benefit to the economy. Not surprisingly, many in Congress don't want the production lines to shut down in the middle of a recession.

On January 16, 44 senators wrote a letter requesting the president make the certification, citing both the insufficiency of the F-35 ( "the F-35 is designed for multi-role strike missions and not optimized for the air dominance missions of the F-22") and its economic impact. On January 20, over 190 congressmen wrote a similar letter which read in part:

Our nation has committed to procuring a total of just 183 F-22 aircraft.  We are convinced that this number is insufficient to meet potential threats.  After accounting for test, training, and maintenance aircraft, only about 100 F-22s will be immediately available for combat at any given time.  Given that over 30 air campaign studies completed over the last 15 years have validated a requirement for far more than 183 F-22 Raptors to replace the original force of 800 F-15 A-D Eagles, it is clear that such a lean F-22 fleet is not consistent with America's national security interest.

The F-22 is a model production line. Since full-rate production began, the unit flyaway cost has decreased by 35 percent. If this certification is delayed, layoffs will begin as this critical supplier base shuts down. Once we begin to lose the F-22 industrial base that was created with billions of dollars of investment over many years, it will quickly become virtually impossible to reconstitute a production capability.

The F-22 program annually provides over $12 billion of economic activity to the national economy.  As our nation faces one of the most trying economic times in recent history, it is imperative to preserve existing high paying, specialized jobs that are critical to our national defense. Over 25,000 Americans working for more than 1,000 suppliers in 44 states manufacture this aircraft.  Moreover, it is estimated that another 70,000 Americans indirectly owe their jobs to this program.

As of today, the White House is silent. Rather, we hear that instead of expanding defense spending the White House is contemplating a defense cut of 10%.

So why not look to programs like the F-22, which serve both long term and immediate needs? Air Force Lt. General Michael Dunn (Ret.), former president of the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., said in a telephone interview, "This production line is shovel ready." Citing the 25,000 direct and 70,000 indirect jobs, he warns that if President Obama does not sign off on the F-22, "They will shut down this spring." The jobs at issue include a large number of union jobs. Almost all are, Dunn says, "high end" jobs which include R&D, engineering, and other positions needed to maintain an "industrial base."

So while Congress mulls over billions to ramp up domestic pork and increase transfer payments (e.g., block grants to states, unemployment benefits), and Obama combats negative press (and allegations that much of his stimulus won't take effect for months), the F-22 affords an opportunity for the Congress and president to spend money on something we need. And they can keep 95,000 people working in the process.

It is such a simple and smart idea even the Washington politicians should understand, right?