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The U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter is seen by some as a prime example of out-of-control federal spending.
Some deficit hawks have cheered sequestration, arguing that imposing blind, across-the-board spending cuts is the only way to reduce the deficit at a time when Washington is broken.
But once you look closely at how the cuts are being applied, it’s clear that sequestration itself is broken.
The system was supposed to cut all programs equally. But instead it’s crippling or shutting down critical services for our children, veterans, and seniors, while leaving failing, unnecessary programs untouched. Why? Because those wasteful programs have powerful advocates in Washington that have rigged sequestration so not a penny is removed from their pet projects. Programs to help the needy and voiceless haven’t fared as well.
The “dishonor roll” of worthy programs gutted or shut down by sequestration grows longer every day. Head Start programs have been forced to shorten school years, furlough teachers, reduce enrollments and even shut down. Low-income parents are finding it more difficult to support their families because sequestration cut their child-care programs.
Fifty-five thousand veterans are losing employment aid and many homeless veterans are losing access to shelters. Many veterans have lost wages because of the massive furloughing of government employees — 44 percent of Department of Defense civilian staff are veterans. We’ve even furloughed National Guard members, who support our troops and help us during natural disasters. You can’t turn on the evening news without seeing the potential consequences of cutbacks to disaster relief capabilities.
Thousands of seniors have had to skip meals due to cuts to Meals on Wheels. And for many of these seniors who can’t get outside their home and live alone without nearby family, they’ve lost their only regular human contact.
But what’s even more outrageous is how policymakers leave these citizens on the chopping block yet refuse to cut the fat when it comes to programs favored by the powerful and well connected.
A prime example is the military’s new F-35 stealth warplane. The F-35 is a poster child for out-of-control government programs. It’s the most expensive defense program in history, expected to cost approximately $1.5 trillion. It has run 70 percent over budget and is now seven years late. It has run into problem after problem with its design — system failures that could cause the pilot to lose control or the engine to catch on fire, “catastrophic” cracks in the engine turbines, and endless glitches in its complicated software.
The plane is named the “Lightning,” but it can’t even fly within 35 miles of lightning because it might explode. Yet despite all its fatal flaws, this failing program is being protected by a Congress that doesn’t think twice about cutting education for our young or support systems for our elderly.
Even worse, the F-35 is, according to most experts, unneeded. Our current fighter jets are faster and more maneuverable than the overweight F-35, which some experts call a dogfight “disaster.” Its limited weapons capability in stealth mode makes it an ineffective bomber. Its short range makes it unsuitable to patrol the wide distances in the Pacific region where President Obama recently proposed a strategic shift. And it’s not heavily armored enough to withstand enemy fire when providing close-in cover for troops on the ground.
Recent design changes made to cut weight have actually made it 25 percent more vulnerable to fire. Defense analysts have said that the F-35 “can’t turn, can’t climb, and can’t run” and won’t even be able to match today’s Russian fighter jets.
Communities don’t want the F-35 either, largely because it is so loud that it will make large residential areas surrounding airports or military bases uninhabitable. The F-35 is 400 percent louder than an F-16. Residents near the Burlington Air National Guard Station where F-16s are based must routinely pause their conversations or turn up their TVs when they’re taking off. They’re used to that and accept it as part of living near the airport. But an F-35 takeoff will be like a freight train running through their front doors.
The FAA says over 3,000 homes in the Burlington area will be rendered unfit for residential use by F-35 noise alone. And that’s not to mention the expanded crash zones for the F-35 that will threaten the lives of thousands of residents near the airport.
With the world’s strongest air force already flying, why squander billions on a fighter jet we don’t need and our communities don’t want? Neither Congress nor Pentagon leaders have effectively answered this question. Defense expert Winslow Wheeler has said “the Pentagon’s current management is hooked on the airplane and refuses to admit it is a failure.” Top Pentagon officials have vowed to protect the plane from sequestration cuts and have found ways to do so with Congress’s tacit approval.
This is a perfect example of how sequestration is broken — programs to educate our kids, house homeless veterans, and feed ailing seniors get the ax, while a trillion-dollar military failure gets full funding. I understand that we need to cut the budget, but this is not what fiscal responsibility looks like. No Vermont child should be shut out of Head Start before we cut military pork like the F-35.
Rosanne M. Greco is a member of the South Burlington City Council. She is a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force who worked on arms control and nuclear nonproliferation at the Pentagon and on peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs at the United Nations.MORE IN Perspective
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