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Senate votes to kill additional F-22 funding after Obama threatens to veto 680 billion defense budget

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MISHUK MUNIER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News. On Tuesday, the US Senate voted down a request for an additional $1.75 billion that was meant to be used for further production of F-22 jet fighters for the US Air Force. Earlier, it seemed that this could come down to a confrontation between President Barack Obama and the Senate, because he had threatened to use his veto powers if the amount was not cut down. We have now with us Halimah Abdullah from the McClatchy DC Washington bureau, who’s been following this story for the last few days. Welcome, Halimah.


MUNIER: The additional funding for the F-22 seemed to create some tension in terms of the Senate approving and not reproving a request from President Obama. What’s your view on that?

ABDULLAH: This issue of funding for the F-22s actually goes back quite a while. Former President George W. Bush had an issue with funding for these planes. It came up again, obviously, in the Obama administration, and President Obama had vowed to cut funding for the planes. The issue, though, is that Lockheed Martin has subcontracted out the manufacturing of these planes in more than 40 states. So it became a situation where you had parochial interest of lawmakers from this these various states going up against an administration and the Department of Defense which felt that the funding for these planes needed to be curbed back and pulled back in order to fund different needs for the Pentagon.

MUNIER: This issue of President Barack Obama threatening to use his veto powers for the first time has been highlighted as a big thing, and apparently this is a victory on his side. How much is this victory political, and how much of it is really good common sense?

ABDULLAH: There are a couple of issues at play there. There’s the political issue, as you mentioned, which is President Obama definitely needed to have the support of his party on this issue of putting forth a veto threat, especially as he prepares to head into the next major showdown, which has to do with health-care reform. So that’s an important issue to point out. The other issue was that with the F-22s and the fact that they are produced in so many different states and the fact that there has been controversy over the years over, you know, whether or not these planes are obsolete, there’s been a lot of back and forth. And so, from the perspective of the Department of Defense, which is now trying to move out of the kind of airstrike type of method of fighting and focus more on insurgency, Secretary Gates needed to have more money to put towards those types of efforts and pull back on the types of planes like the F-22.

MUNIER: So what’s changed? Give us a little bit of historical background to the Defense-point-of-view need for the F-22 versus what’s changed now.

ABDULLAH: The money and what the Department of Defense feels would be a better use of money. What the Department of Defense wants to use would be, you know, obviously, the planes that are currently in use, but F-35s, which are planes that can be used by the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines, where currently the F-22s are only being used by the Air Force. The other issue is that the nature of warfare, at least from the perspective of the United States and efforts that we’re currently involved in, have to do more so with insurgency. The F-22s have not been used in Iraq or Afghanistan in our efforts there. And so there was a lot of thinking and revising about how we can best use our money to concentrate on efforts.

MUNIER: Military analysts, some of them are saying that the earlier beginning of the F-22s, historically, was the Cold War, and even then it started production much, much later than it should have. And the Cold War and the Russian military output had stopped and changed. And the incredible cost in terms of maintaining the fleet—and 187 are still in operation or is promised to be in operation. So given that, is this just another shift in terms of military production? Because $1.75 billion out of $680-some billion, it doesn’t seem like a huge victory figure.

ABDULLAH: I can only really talk about the politics of it. And when you pull the camera back, part of this issue is the whole idea of curbing defense spending and a shift in mindset on how Defense spending can be better used to meet the types of threats that the military currently faces. So in that, yes, there is definitely a shift. The kinds of warfare efforts that we are involved in are very different from the ’80s.

MUNIER: So this is not conventional warfare. This is, if you look at it, since the F-22’s never been used in Afghanistan or Iraq even once—or I don’t know if anywhere else it’s ever seen any action. And given today’s nature of the wars that the United States is involved in, it’s counterterrorism, it’s guerrilla tactics. So in real terms, it’s actually looking towards even more high-tech military equipment, like the drones, for example. I read somewhere that the US Air Force was going to train more drone jocks this year than actual fighter plane jocks. So this is more like a strategy shift. Secretary Gates also supported it. So it seems that the Senate was asked to listen to the Pentagon’s needs in terms of technology. But there is always the other issue of the Congress, the states, and jobs, and the economy. So will Congress follow through with this, do you think?

ABDULLAH: You bring up a lot of good points. You know, this definitely was a situation where the needs of the military, at least from the perspective of Secretary Gates, because it is important to point out that several fairly high-ranking military officials disagreed with Gates, those in the Air Force [inaudible]

MUNIER: And he couldn’t do it when he was there under President Bush.

ABDULLAH: It’s a totally different kind of climate there, politically a very different kind of climate. So you had that issue of what, you know, the Department of Defense said it needed versus the states that, you know, in this downturn in the economy certainly don’t want to see more of jobs leave their area.

MUNIER: More than 1,000 contractors and probably 47-plus states involved in all of that. So where are we headed in terms of the Defense budget and the Congress?

ABDULLAH: You know, obviously, the lawmakers who were involved in trying to keep the funding in for the F-22s are going to try and go back and marshal support within the House to make sure that they hold steadfast when this piece of legislation goes into conference to get funding of some sort for the F-22s in the ultimate bill.

MUNIER: Okay. Thank you very much.

ABDULLAH: Thank you.

MUNIER: And thank you for joining us.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Halimah Abdullah covers Washington for The Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Ga., and the Macon Telegraph in Macon, Ga.