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This Pentagon program must be cut after more stimulus for coronavirus

After passing trillions of dollars in stimulus bills to combat the coronavirus downturn, it is critical that the federal government protect taxpayers and rein in spending. An obvious place to start is the F35 program run by the Pentagon, which is chronically over budget and behind schedule.

While conservatives cheer on the White House for waiving hundreds of regulations under its coronavirus response, the actual level of spending required to offset the damage done by the lockdown is raising concerns over the national debt. According to recent forecasts, the national debt is now projected to exceed the size of the economy by the end of the fiscal year, which is a marker that has not been hit since World War Two.

Negotiations with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats resulted in Congress passing $2 trillion in coronavirus relief. Unfortunately, despite adding over 2 million jobs last month as the country now starts to reopen, more spending could be on the way as Pelosi pushes for a new $3 trillion stimulus package. Unsurprisingly, the plan is filled up with controversial provisions unrelated to the coronavirus, including a $25 billion bailout for the Postal Service and nearly $50 billion in student loan relief.

Such policy proposals are igniting a backlash from the political right as a coalition of conservative organizations are demanding the spending come to a stop, reminding Congress that there is a limit to taxpayer dollars. The same sentiment is shared by White House advisers as “conservatives in the administration have grown uneasy with the size and scope” of such spending, according to a recent report by the Washington Post.

However, a return to true fiscal discipline in the wake of the coronavirus requires more than simply pressing the pause button on spending. This is now a necessity for Congress to examine its spending priorities and start cutting waste. This means leaving no stone unturned and looking at every agency budget. This includes programs under the Defense Department, an agency with a history of failing to use taxpayer dollars wisely.

The first place Congress needs to look at is the F35 program. The issues around it are no secret to the public, as the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly criticized the program for being over budget and behind schedule. A new report to Congress found the F35 program has not been “meeting standards aimed at ensuring consistent high quality products, and fielded aircraft do not meet reliability goals.”

The same report found that delays in development caused the 14 percent increase in the cost of modernizing aircraft over the last year. Further, the cost of acquisition skyrocketed between 2018 to 2019, as the total cost estimate of the F35 acquisition increased by $22 billion to $428 billion. In an atmosphere where the federal government is approaching a dangerous level of debt, it simply cannot afford a surprise cost increase of $22 billion from one program at one agency. Taxpayers deserve better.

The issues laid out in the report are only the latest problems. In a report last year, the Defense Department inspector general found that the “lack of asset visibility” was restricting the ability of the Pentagon to conduct the “checks and balances” that ensure “the prime contractor is managing and spending” funds appropriately. The Government Accountability Office in the past went so far as suggesting a pause for the entire F35 program, recommending two years ago that “no funds shall be available” until the Defense Department can prove a better business case for it.

The ballooning costs make it clear that the Pentagon has failed to prove its case. It is time that Congress listened to the recommendations of the Government Accountability Office and ground the F35 fighter program. After spending trillions of dollars to combat the coronavirus downturn, it will be more important than ever for Congress to cut spending and tackle the debt. The F35 program must be first on the chopping block.

Mike Palicz is the federal affairs manager with Americans for Tax Reform.

Tags Budget Coronavirus Defense Finance Government Military Pentagon Policy

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