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A Glimmer of Fiscal Discipline

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 12:09 AM EDT

Yesterday delivered a small piece of good news on the budget front. As reported by the Washington Post:

The Senate voted Tuesday to kill the nation’s premier fighter-jet program, embracing by a 58 to 40 margin the argument of President Obama and his top military advisers that more F-22s are not needed for the nation’s defense and would be a costly drag on the Pentagon’s budget in an era of small wars and counterinsurgency efforts.

As I noted in a recent post, President Obama deserves kudos for threatening to veto any appropriations bill that would include extra funding for the F-22. And the Senate deserves credit for agreeing. The House wasn’t as frugal, including $369 million in initial funding for additional fighters in its version of the appropriations bill. So the next test will be to see what emerges from the House-Senate conference on the bill.

The amounts of money are, of course, small relative to today’s trillion-dollar deficits. But perhaps they are a first step toward some semblance of fiscal discipline. Budget hawks are rightly concerned about the growth of spending on the major entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — but defense spending should also get close scrutiny. With annual appropriations reaching almost $700 billion, reductions in defense spending will almost certainly be part of any effort to put our fiscal house back in order (barring major new hostilities).

P.S. Back in 2006, I testified before Congress about some of the budget gimmicks that the Air Force was then trying to use to get funding for more F-22s. One trick was to try to get a small amount of initial funding for planes in one year, so that in later years it could go back and say “well, we already started these planes, so you have to give us $x billion to finish them.” Sounds like the folks in the House were considering something similar.

Disclosure: I have no investments in any aerospace company.