You couldn’t make this stuff up: thanks to Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and the power of “earmarks,” the Army has bought $6.5 million worth of “leakproof” drip pans “to catch transmission fluid on Black Hawk helicopters,” reports the New York Times. Those pans were purchased from a company called Phoenix Products, whose owners, coincidentally, are contributors to the congressman’s political committee (and other Republican causes). Oh, and according to the Times, “the company has paid at least $600,000 since 2005 to a Washington lobbying firm, Martin Fisher Thompson & Associates, to represent its interests on federal contracting issues.” Anyway, do the math and you end up with a $17,000 Army drip pan — and there’s one tiny catch: another company sells a comparable drip pan for about $2,500.
Is anybody shocked? This, after all, is the world of the U.S. military, which has been right up there with the 1% this last decade when it comes to garnering and squandering riches. It’s been ever more flush, while the taxpayers whose dollars it’s been raking in have done ever less well. And symbolic as those drip pans may be, they aren’t even a drip in the bucket of Pentagon expenses when you start looking at the big-ticket items.
Take the already notorious F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Once billed as a low-cost solution to maintaining control of the global skies, it’s now in competition for first place in any most-expensive-jet-fighter-in-history contest. (The present title-holder is the F-22, a $400 million plane whose pilots fear an oxygen malfunction every time they take off, and which “sat out” all Washington’s recent wars.)
The F-35’s price tag went up yet again recently, though only by a piddling $289 million, even as its production schedule continues to fall ever further behind. As of now, the total cost for 2,457 of the aircraft is officially pegged at $395.7 billion, a jump of 75% over the original 2001 estimated price tag of $226.5 billion (for 2,866 planes). That’s one heck of a lot of drip-pan equivalents — and no one believes that’s the final price, either. Of the total cost of the plane to produce and operate, expert Winslow Wheeler writes, “The current appraisal for operations and support is $1.1 trillion — making for a grand total of $1.5 trillion, or more than the annual GDP of Spain. And that estimate is wildly optimistic.”
This is the sort of boondoggle that can’t be cut in Washington lest our safety be endangered, even as the country’s infrastructure decays, the jobs of police and teachers are cut, and the urge to savage the funds that go to the poor rises precipitously. Consider that just a little background for the world of spending misinformation that TomDispatch regular Mattea Kramer, senior research analyst at the National Priorities Project and lead author of the new book, A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget, reminds us has wall-papered our world these last years. Tom
Four Spending Myths That Could Wreck Our World:
How Not to Solve an American Crisis
By Mattea Kramer