By Bryan Bender
WASHINGTON _ Taking a leading role in the brouhaha over proposed weapons cuts, two Massachusetts lawmakers are urging fellow House members not to force the Pentagon to buy more F-22 fighter jets over the objections of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and the top Air Force brass.
Reps. Barney Frank and John Tierney are both offering amendments that would reverse the decision last week by the influential House Armed Services Committee to allocate $369 million next year to buy materials for 12 more of the stealth fighter jets.
The Obama administration's decision to end production of the high-priced jets at 187 planes has set off an uproar among powerful members of Congress in both parties who stipulate that curtailing the Lockheed Martin project will cost thousands of jobs and could harm national security.
But Democrats Frank, of Newton, and Tierney, of Salem, believe the fate of the F-22 is a test case for whether Obama's attempts to cut Cold War-era projects to free up money for pressing wartime needs can overcome the entrenched interests in the defense industry and their politically powerful boosters on Capitol Hill.
"If we cannot hold the line on this it is very bad news for trying to hold down any excesses in Pentagon spending," Frank told reporters today in a conference call organized by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think tank. "This is a major assault on the president's effort to control military spending."
He said if Congress reverses the administration's decision on the F-22 supporters of other weapons that the Pentagon has concluded it doesn't need could be emboldened to fight back as well. "That is just going to fuel their appetite."
Frank said he was particularly ticked off that the House committee, which approved the F-22 funding by just one vote, took the funds from the administration's request for environmental cleanup at military bases. He said it is disingenuous to say the move is therefore not adding money to the federal budget because ultimately the cleanup will have to be undertaken.
He chided his colleagues who he said "apparently think the Pentagon is funded with Monopoly money that doesn't count."
Gates, who was asked by Obama to stay on as Pentagon chief at the close of the Bush administration, has staked his reputation on a budget plan that reshapes Pentagon priorities so that counter-insurgency and other irregular warfare capabilities in shorter supply are given adequate resources.
Gates, asked by reporters last week about congressional attempts to upend his plan, bristled at the suggestion by some that he is harming national security by cutting back on some weapons that could be needed to defend against potential future enemies.
He noted that according to the new plan the Pentagon will spend an estimated $1 trillion on another fighter jet, the F-35, as well as replace the Ohio-class of nuclear ballistic missile submarines.
"So the notion that we are not taking seriously the range of potential future conflicts, I think, frankly is just a misunderstanding of what we're trying to do," Gates said.
As for the F-22, he made no bones about what he thinks about the House committee's move.
"To be blunt about it, the notion that not buying 60 more F-22s imperils the national security of the United States I find completely nonsense."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.