The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 10, 2010

Our View: Jet engine argument doesn’t fly

The Free Press

This article was corrected June 11, 2010.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the waters of reasonable expectations from Congress, the sharks of insanity have reared their ugly heads.

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to approve a $485 million expenditure for the so-called “backup” engine for the F-35 fighter plan, an engine Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he doesn’t need. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before him, is also against it. Obama has vowed to veto a defense appropriations bill that includes it.

Yet there it is: Bipartisan approval for continued development of the “backup” engine to General Electric and Rolls-Royce. Some 231 members of the House voted to approve the deal, 115 Democrats and 116 Republicans. This vote comes at a time of spiraling federal deficits and the call from taxpayers to curb spending, and especially wasteful spending.

Those voting in favor are among the members with some of the strongest get-tough-on spending, anti-government campaign rhetoric. They include people like Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor, who also signed the so-called “no earmark” pledge. While this technically isn’t an earmark, it sure smells like one.

Democrats are in the same boat. Some 23 House members of the so-called fiscally conservative “Blue Dog” coalition voted in favor of it, as did longtime progressive Democrat and dove Dennis Kucinich voted in favor, according to the Washington Post.

Of the Minnesota delegation, Democrats Tim Walz, Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and James Oberstar and Republican Erik Paulsen voted against the wasteful spending on the engine. Republicans John Kline and Michele Bachmann voted in favor of adding the engine program.

Those voting in favor argue the “backup” engine is needed because it is being developed by General Electric-Rolls Royce, a competitor to Pratt & Whitney, who makes the current F-35 Joint Fighter engine. They argue we shouldn’t have all our key weaponry developed by one defense contractor. That could be bad for competition and security.

The General Accountability Office estimated a two-source engine program would eventually lower long-term costs by 12 percent. Proponents may have some facts on their side, but miss the common sense of this issue.

That competition argument may sound good, and it may be good economics, but we have to remember the experts are saying we don’t need it. We don’t need to spend the money. It’s wasteful.

Those who want market competition for jet engines should realize the government cannot create competition by spending money on things we don’t need. It’s one of the most spurious arguments yet: Spend so we can prop up competition, so we can subsidize competition.

If we want competition, we should demand accountability and competitive prices for defense contractors, not offer them some corporate welfare.

Voters should use this vote when measuring if the candidates are serious about fiscal responsibility. It’s a decision for wasteful spending, and those favoring it should be held accountable.

The vote is Roll Call Vote number 316, and can be found at

A yes vote was to cut the funding of the backup engine.

A summary of the vote and the Minnesota delegation’s record can be found at, and then clicking on “Roll Call Votes” in the green navigation bar on the left side of the homepage.