Call me crazy, but I thought last November's election delivered an unambiguously clear message from voters of both parties plus highly coveted independents that the old ways of Washington, from backroom deals through wasteful earmarks, needed to be reformed once and for all. And, yes, some initially promising steps were taken beginning in the waning days of the 111th Congress.
Yet, if you look closer, it becomes apparent that the real-life home makeover of Congress has stalled following the delivery of new window dressings, especially when it comes to judicious use of the family piggy bank.
And if ever there was a prime example of wasteful spending, it's the F136 extra engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Despite losing multiple down-select decisions to Pratt & Whitney's F135 (which has since powered every JSF flight, earned all necessary government certifications, and made a smooth transition to production), the F136 continues its zombie-like march, consuming billions of taxpayer dollars along the way while providing absolutely nothing in return.
Why has Congress allowed this travesty to continue unabated? Surely, voters don't want their legislators to further perpetuate monumental waste on the F136. After all, the past two presidents have tried to cancel it, plus civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon have said they don't need it, don't want it and won't use it.
Even worse, the defense bill in the last Congress did not authorize the F136, the Senate has specifically singled it out to be de-funded,and President Obama has repeatedly vowed to veto any bill that included it.
So, what keeps the F136 alive, despite being inherently duplicative and years behind the proven F135? Sadly, it comes down to politics as usual. Apparently, the Republican commitment to cut wasteful spending stops at their respective district boundaries when pie-in-the-sky promises are made. It's hard to draw any other conclusion, based on successful lobbying by General Electric of House Speaker John Boehner and others, combined with Rolls-Royce's skillful wooing of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Rep. Mike Pence plus the House of Commons (whose interest let's remember is British jobs, not American ones).
Over the years, the F136 has become the quintessential earmark: kept alive by spending that is not authorized, nor requested by the Obama administration. Yet, it survives despite strong rhetoric from House and Senate GOP leaders who have made a big show of eschewing earmarks. If only irony wasn't so recklessly expensive.
One has to wonder if the new 112th Congress arrived for their opening night performance forgetting the lines voters so tightly scripted for them. Admittedly, these are still early days, yet this is clearly not the show for which we bought very expensive tickets. As those of us with theatre backgrounds know, today's hit can find itself cancelled well before its intended run is complete. Today's cast now just hitting the stage would be well served to remember who paved their way to stardom. Now is not the time to lose the plot.