In DOD pork battle, Obama stands to offend friends and foes alike

Jean Card Writer and Communications Consultant
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With a mix of emotions ranging from anger and frustration to bewilderment and sympathy, the American public is watching a disappointing story unfold this summer. We are downright stumped as to why President Obama continues to make decisions that neither help his popularity nor improve the economy. Another chapter in this story is about to be written; more disappointment for Obama supporters is in store.

In the coming weeks, the president will likely have an opportunity to sign a defense appropriations bill that would both fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (supporting the troops = good in the eyes of most Americans) and repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy impacting gays in the military (repeal = good in the eyes of Obama key constituencies).

And yet the president will probably veto the bill. Why?

A veto will bitterly disappoint gay rights groups and anger anyone concerned about whether our troops are getting the support they need on the field of battle. The veto promises to be a wildly unpopular move.

It will be done in the name of a Department of Defense pork battle, a classically arcane inside-the-beltway drama. The Obama administration will shoot down a top wish-list item of the gay rights community because it wants to look responsible on pork (don’t laugh!). Specifically, on the development spending for a fighter plane engine.

The boiled-down version of the story is this: Engine-building big business Pratt and Whitney thinks that the Joint Strike Fighter only needs one engine developed and built: theirs. They say this will save a lot of taxpayer money. Engine building big-business partners GE and Rolls Royce thinks that two engines should be developed: Pratt and Whitney’s and theirs. They say their strategy will save a lot of taxpayer money. Both sides have spent jaw-dropping sums lobbying for their share of the billions at stake.

As a taxpayer, I am not inherently sympathetic to either side of such a big-money battle, so my faith is with the non-partisan, independent Government Accountability Office. They say that the two-engine approach will encourage innovation and efficiency and therefore save large sums of taxpayer dollars over the lifetime of the Joint Strike Fighter project. They have plenty of examples of how this has worked in the past. Enough said, right? Sign the bill, Mr. President!

But the Obama administration has said that it is on Pratt and Whitney’s side. So much so that they will veto a bill that funds the two-engine approach – no matter what other important policy is in the bill. The house defense appropriations committee voted at the end of July for the two-engine approach, tee’ing the bill up for a veto.

This all means that Americans can get ready for another “Why, Mr. President?” moment from some of his key supporters. I hope he has a good answer, for everyone’s sake.

Ms. Card is a freelance writer living in Alexandria, Va. She is a former cabinet-level speechwriter and has served in the U.S. departments of Labor, Treasury and Justice.