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Obama on the Senate’s F-22 Vote

Just-released remarks from the Rose Garden on the Senate’s decision to strip funding for the F-22 fighter jet:

I want to say a few words about a very important vote that just took place in Congress.

Long before I took this office, I argued that meeting our greatest challenges would require not only changing policies in Washington, but changing the way we do business in Washington. I also promised that part of that change would be eliminating waste and inefficiency in our defense projects — reform that will better protect our nation, better protect our troops, and save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will do whatever it takes to defend the American people, which is why we’ve increased our funding for our military, and why we will always give our men and women in uniform the equipment and support that they need to get the job done.

But I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on outdated and unnecessary defense projects to keep this nation secure. That’s why I’ve taken steps to greatly reduce no-bid defense contracts. That’s why I’ve signed overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation to limit cost overruns on weapons systems before they spiral out of control. And that’s why I’m grateful that the Senate just voted against an additional $1.75 billion to buy F-22 fighter jets that military experts and members of both parties say we do not need.

At a time when we’re fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this would have been an inexcusable waste of money. Every dollar of waste in our defense budget is a dollar we can’t spend to support our troops, or prepare for future threats, or protect the American people. Our budget is a zero-sum game, and if more money goes to F-22s, it is our troops and citizens who lose.

So I want to thank Secretary Gates for his outspoken leadership on this issue. I want to thank every member of Congress who put politics aside to do what’s right for the American military and the American taxpayers. And I particularly want to thank Senators Levin and McCain for helping to make this happen.

Notice President Obama makes a point that some advocates of the F-22 just don’t concede: that the defense budget is somehow different from the non-defense budget. That money spent on a defense program or weapons platform isn’t money that doesn’t get spent on some other priority, and certainly isn’t money that doesn’t get spent on a different defense priority. According to the opposing argument, the right response to a budget that can either pay for an outmoded defense platform or the more immediate needs of defense is to add enough money into the defense budget so that you never have to choose.

Obama rejects that reasoning. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) rejects that reasoning. Defense Secretary Bob Gates rejects that reasoning. But more important than any argument from authority is the recognition that defense spending ought to follow a basic calculation of what threats the country faces, and what’s necessary to deter and defeat those threats. The fiscal 2010 defense budget is not a totally zero-sum budget. The Air Force will still have lots of fighter jets after Obama finally signs it into law. There is not and never has been an argument that prioritizing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars means the end of preparation against other, less mature threats. What it does is rebalance those priorities and slough off some of the dead weight. The rebalancing debate goes next to the Quadrennial Defense Review, which Pentagon officials have said for months will guide the next round of defense budgeting.

To a great degree, this debate itself is a zero-sum proposition. Either you recognize that money for defense is finite or you don’t. There’s always going to be a debate, as there should, about what overall priorities need to shape budgeting, and what defense priorities ought to shape defense budgeting. But there needs to be a recognition that the budget is, simply, limited.

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