Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NBC's Michael Isikoff on the Extra Engine

Rachel Maddow and NBC's Michael Isikoff discuss what's been keeping the extra engine for the Joint Strike Fighter alive after it was targeted for cancellation by the White House and the Pentagon.

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MADDOW: One of the great unanswered questions of 2011 is whether or not the new supposed anti-spending zealotry in Washington this year means that defense will be cut, too or whether defense gets to keep growing indefinitely - indefinitely, inexorably because we`re all still living in the world Ike described 50 years ago.

Michael Isikoff, NBC`s national investigative correspondent, has been looking into the new Congress and its approach to historically untouchable, uncuttable(ph) spending. Mike, thanks very much for joining us. What have you been finding?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rachel, what I`ve been finding is the military industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned about is as awesome and as powerful as ever.

And we`ve seen some pretty dramatic examples in just the last two weeks. Secretary Gates announced that he wanted to cut some $78 billion from the Pentagon budget, unnecessary, unneeded programs.

And you would think in this current environment in which cutting discretionary spending has been identified across the board as the absolute number one priority in Washington, he would get a receptive hearing.

In fact, what he got was a ferocious pushback from members of Congress who have gotten generous campaign checks from defense contractors who would be identified for cutting and/or who have defense plants in their district which would lose jobs.

It`s the military industrial complex in full play. Two examples that really left out - one is that Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle for the Marines that you mentioned, and we`ll get to that in a moment.

Another one that`s pretty interesting is the alternate engine for the joint strike fighter brought to you by General Electric, which, of course, owns this network for at least currently, and Rolls Royce.

In both cases, and certainly in the joint strike fighter case, both the Bush administration and the Obama administration targeted this for elimination saying we don`t need two engines for the same airplane. It creates all sorts of logistical problems. It`s a waste of money.

And in fact, Congress consistently has pushed back, both getting - both because of large campaign checks and also a ferocious and awesome lobbying campaign by General Electric and Rolls Royce.

In fact, one kind of an example that I thought was kind of fun is, right now, everybody in Washington reads that "Politico" Mike Allen`s playbook every morning. Well, all last week, the week after Gates made his announcement, you would have gotten that playbook sponsored by GE and Rolls Royce plugging the alternate engine for the joint strike fighter.

Who is for the joint strike fighter? Well, let`s start with the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. He said in an interview with Brian Williams two weeks ago that cutting defense spending would be on table.

But he`s a big supporter of the alternate engine. Why? The Evendale, Ohio plant where the engine is primarily made, right outside his district. Who else? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He`s got a Rolls Royce plant in his district.

Who else? Mike Pence, the deficit hawk, arch-deficit hawk, got a Rolls Royce plant in his district in Indiana. Now, it`s one to be bipartisan about this.

Among those who are trumpeting pushing hard last week, writing the White House letters on this to release funding for the joint strike fighter, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio, trying to protect those jobs in Ohio. It`s the military industrial complex at work.

MADDOW: But Mike, you mentioned the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle as well. We highlighted that as a stupidity test for Congress. Who is going to fight to safe this very expensive, over-budget thing that doesn`t really work, that the military doesn`t want? Do we have results yet on that stupidity test?

ISIKOFF: Yes, we do. And I`m afraid some of the very same characters, Sherrod Brown, Democratic senator from Ohio. Why? Lima, Ohio has one of the plants that the EFV is being made.

But who else? The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Howard McKeon, and the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees it, Aiken of Missouri, both got maxed-out contributions from the maker of the EFV, General Dynamics.

And by the way, if you were looking for any better example of the military industrial complex, take a look at General Dynamics, a company that spends millions on campaign contributions, millions on lobbying Congress. And just for fun, I looked at its board of directors the other day. And of the 10 board of directors, at least five former admirals, former generals, top Pentagon officials, the revolving door from the Pentagon and the military to the defense establishment helping to keep those defense dollars flowing.

MADDOW: Michael Isikoff, NBC`s national investigative correspondent, I`ve been looking forward to getting your report on this for a very long time since I knew it was coming. Mike, thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

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