Pandemic relief package would become weapons bazaar
Legislation would buy high-tech weaponry like the F-35 stealth fighter
Senate Republicans have laced their roughly $1 trillion coronavirus relief package with at least $7 billion for weapons, most of which are built by leading contractors that contribute heavily to congressional campaigns.
The draft appropriations portion, made public Monday evening, includes money for fighter jets, helicopters, radars, ships and armored vehicles that the measure’s authors have deemed “emergency” spending that is not capped by the budget control law.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, defended the proposed weapons spending in the coronavirus legislation as having a security and economic benefit.
"The Defense Industrial Base (DIB) is essential to our economy and to the defense of our nation," the spokeswoman said. "This bill takes steps to ensure that the DIB, along with the millions of jobs it provides, are supported."
Securing billions of dollars in funding for the defense programs now would free up space in the forthcoming fiscal 2021 Defense spending bill for other priorities. Shelby’s Defense panel has yet to write its bill. The House measure is being considered on the floor this week as part of a seven-bill appropriations package.
Top contractors win
The measure lists the dollar amounts and programs without enumerating how many items would be purchased in most cases.
The top two defense contractors, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., would do especially well under the measure.
The list of weapons is topped by fully $1 billion for an unstated number of Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance jets.
Also on the list is $283 million for Boeing Apache helicopters for the Army.
Missile defense programs, always a favorite of Republicans, would net scores of millions of dollars. Boeing’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense anti-missile system, which is aimed at intercepting incoming ballistic missiles from sites in Alaska and California, would receive $200 million, and $243 million more would go to a missile defense radar program.
A Boeing program that replaces the wings on A-10 attack aircraft would get $650 million.
Lockheed Martin Corp.-made aircraft also would net large amounts of money in the bill. The bill would allocate $686 million for the company’s F-35A Air Force fighter jets and $720 million for its C-130J Hercules transport planes. And a Lockheed Martin missile defense system called the Theater High Altitude Area Defense program would garner $76 million.
National Guard and shipbuilders
The so-called National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account would net an additional $800 million. Appropriators created this account, which is not formally requested by the Pentagon or authorized by the Armed Services Committees. It provides an annual fund that reservist brass can use for purposes they then disclose to Congress only months after the appropriations law is enacted.
Typically, the account receives close to $1 billion. The $800 million would be on top of this year's appropriation.
Shipbuilders also would do well under the spending measure.
The measure would provide $1.5 billion for four expeditionary medical ships, $260 million for an Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel, $250 million for amphibious ships, $250 million for companies such as General Dynamics Corp. that build destroyers and $153 million for ship depot maintenance, meaning major repair work.
The legislation includes $375 million for upgrading Stryker infantry carrier vehicles for the Army, a program run by General Dynamics.