There are two things the leaders of the new majority in the House of Representatives have made clear since they began to assume the reins of power three months ago. They would:
- Cut spending
- Eliminate earmarks
Those two frequently repeated objectives are being translated into legislation in a 359-page bill filed on the House floor Friday evening—legislation that will be considered by the full House later this week without the benefit of hearings or even committee deliberation. As promised, the bill contains a breathtaking list of program cuts and terminations.
The bill would shred, among other things, the social safety net in hard-pressed localities across America with reductions in nutrition programs for infants and pregnant mothers. And it would cut federal support to keep destitute families from having their heat and electricity cut off during one of the coldest winters in recent memory. Preliminary analysis also indicates that Head Start programs may be forced to shut down a month early in many communities across the country. Finally, the bill would deliver a particularly hard blow to struggling local governments, canceling out billions of dollars in assistance to law enforcement, sewer construction, support of local schools, and so forth.
But buried deeply in these 359 pages of ugly surprises is a provision that would mean one community in America would do a lot better than all of the others. The legislation added an estimated $450 million for a particular bit of defense spending that the Department of Defense did not ask for and does not want.
The item is a down payment that would obligate the federal government to future payments that could well be three or four times the increased spending added to this particular piece of legislation, with a big portion of the funds flowing to two cities in Ohio—Cincinnati, where Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) grew up, and Dayton, the largest city in his congressional district.
The money will go to pay the costs to General Electric Co.’s General Electric Aviation unit and the British-owned Rolls Royce Group for their development of an engine for the new Joint Strike Fighter aircraft—money that looks, feels, and smells very much like an earmark.
Should the Department of Defense end up paying the two companies to develop the engine it is hoped that they will then buy significant numbers of them for the aircraft. The problem that the Pentagon has with this plan for using tax dollars is that they already have an engine for the plane—an engine that was decided on when the contract for production of the plane was agreed to 10 years ago.
But that does not deter union leaders, company executives, and local government officials in Dayton and Cincinnati from arguing their case. At a rally held at one of GE’s Ohio facilities last October, the company announced the addition of 500 new jobs at the Cincinnati and Dayton plants and emphasized the importance of congressional action to override Pentagon objections to the program. A story from the October 22 edition of the Dayton Business Journal entitled “GE’s fighter engine ‘a huge issue’ for Tri-State economy” reported:
The Pentagon insists GE’s second engine isn’t needed, that it has no use for it, and that further development is a waste of money. But the engine’s supporters in Congress—and Evendale, where GE employs more than 7,000—beg to differ…“It’s a huge issue. There’s a lot at risk here,” said Gary Jordan, president of United Aerospace Workers Local 647.
The increased funding added to the new House budget bill was done in a manner even more “stealthy” than the plane that the would-be engine hopes to power. It is believed to be mixed in with much larger spending totals in one or more of the bill’s military research and development accounts. Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-FL) conceded to Reuters on Friday that "the bill that we’re going to deal with next week has the money in it," referring to the GE-Rolls Royce engine.
The local political sensitivity on this issue is so strong that it was repeatedly rumored that assurances on the second engine were being offered by competing candidates during the contest in the House last December to determine the new chairman of the full appropriations committee. Whether or not Rep. Boehner can leverage the White House into signing legislation that contains a major spending increase that neither President Barack Obama nor the Pentagon favors, the mere existence of the spending program in the House bill would seem to significantly tarnish the commitment of Rep. Boehner and his colleagues in the House to spending cuts and the end to earmarking.
Scott Lilly is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.