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Conference Call With Rep. Barney Frank And Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow At The Center For American Progress Action Fund - Money Allocation To Nuclear Waste Cleanup And F-22 Fighter Planes

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MODERATOR: Congressman Frank will provide introductory remarks, and will be followed by Lawrence Korb. At that point, we'll open the floor for a question-and-answer period. And, with that, I will turn the floor over to Congressman Frank.

REP. FRANK: Thank you. We have a very important decision coming up in the House of Representatives. It's important both for the specifics of the decision and as an indicator of what's going to happen in the future.

President Obama, with good support from Secretary Gates, has made it clear he's ready to take on the notion of open-ended military spending. And I am of course struck that so many of my colleagues who are so worried about the deficit apparently think the Pentagon is funded with Monopoly money that somehow doesn't count. In fact, it is the enormous increase in military spending, both for wars and for weapons for the war that fortunately never came, but has since gone, the Cold War, that's pumping this up.

Now, one of the things that the president did very courageously was to say, "enough with the F-22s," a very expensive weapon that has played no significant part in our actual defense. What then happens, to my dismay, is that the Armed Services Committee, on a very narrow vote, over the objection of the chairman of the committee, Ike Skelton, insists on giving the Pentagon 12 more of these planes than it wants.

That's expensive. That will cost 2 billion (dollars). They underfund it, which is of course a common technique that we've seen in the military of lowballing initial estimates and then they rise. To add a little injury to the injury, they take the money for the additional planes that the Defense Department doesn't want out of environmental cleanup. That of course means it's a further dodge because no one thinks that you aren't ultimately going to have to do that environmental cleanup. So, on it's own terms, that's really an addition to the deficit because it temporarily says no environmental cleanup.

So it is $2 billion that we should not be spending for planes we don't need. But it is not simply that. The initial proposal for the F-22 is even more than these additional 12. I don't have any doubt if the people who are on the side of building these planes win on this one, they'll be back for more.

And it's also going to be a very important indication to people in the defense community, the contracting community, the political community whether or not the president's going to be able to hold, whether or not this is just hypocrisy on the part of the conservatives in general who talk deficit and then spend the money.

You know, one (side ?) that I'm sure we're going to hear from the some of the advocates of building these additional planes over the objection of the Defense Department, that it's good because of the jobs they will create. These arguments will come from the very people who denied that the economic recovery plan created any jobs.

We have a very odd economic philosophy in Washington. It's called "weaponized Keynesianism." It is a view that the government does not create jobs when it builds -- funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers. But when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation.

We are going to the Rules Committee at 5:00 today. I have offered an amendment to undo the amendment that was adopted, 3130, in the committee. It would strike the additional 12 F-22s and put the money back in the environmental account. We will be voting on that on tomorrow or on Thursday.

And it is, as I said, not just important on the 2 billion (dollars), which is pretty important in and of itself, but it really is the first test of whether or not there is going to be some legitimacy on the part of a lot of the deficit hawks in Congress. Are they going to continue this policy of exempting military spending from any reasonable economic restraint? And the question is whether President Obama with Secretary Gates will succeed in doing what presidents have had a hard time doing because of congressional resistance: getting control of Pentagon spending and rationalizing it.

MR. KORB: I think the congressman has a schedule, so let's if the reporters for him. And then I'll fill in.

MODERATOR: Okay. Let's open the floor for question and answer, then, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The floor is now open for questions. If you do have a question, please press star-one on your telephone keypad at this time. Questions will be taken in the order they're received. If, at any time, your question has been answered, you can remove yourself from the queue by pressing pound. If you're using a speakerphone, we ask that while posing your question, you pick up your handset to provide favorable sound quality. Again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do have a question or comment, please press star-one on your telephone keypad.

And our first question comes from Bryan Bender from the Boston Globe. Sir, you may state your question.

Q Thanks very much.

Congressman, can you say whether or not you have personally spoken with some of your colleagues that have voted in the Armed Services Committee to put this money back in?

REP. FRANK: Not yet because I just got here. The vote came late last week, and I haven't had a chance to speak to any of my colleagues about it yet. My chief of staff, Bruno Freitas, has been talking to some of the staff members.

And -- I take it back, I did talk to Ike Skelton, the chairman of the committee, who was in the minority on that, who voted not to add the planes, and I told him I was planning to do this. I haven't had a chance to talk to some of the others.

Q Maybe just a quick follow-up. You touched on this. Do you think that the F-22 is sort of a test case as to whether or not some of the efforts of the administration could actually survive? In other words, kind of waiting --

REP. FRANK: Not sort of. Absolutely it is a test case. This is a -- if we cannot hold the line on this, then it's -- it's -- it's very bad news for trying to hold down any kind of excesses in military spending.

Yeah, this is one that -- it's a big-ticket item from the Cold War. It's got nothing to do with troops in Iraq or the troops in Afghanistan or the troops anywhere else. It is a very expensive item. They're talking only about 2 billion (dollars) now. I guarantee you, if they win this one, they'll be back for tens of billions more. And it is the test.

So we'll see whether or not -- well, let me put this way: If the administration loses on this and if the people who want the more planes win, that's just going to fuel their appetite. They will then become, "Well, wait a minute. If you can do it for the F-22, why can't you do it for me and for that one and for the other one?" It will be very, very hard for the committee leadership and the president to maintain any spending discipline.

Q And I'm sorry, I don't know if I fully heard the part where you talked about your proposal or counterproposal. That would be an amendment to the final bill?

REP. FRANK: My proposal is to go back to the way it was in committee. It is -- an amendment was offered by Congressman Bishop from Utah to take money that was set in the bill to do cleanup of environmental hazards at military bases and instead put it towards buying more F-22s.

Now, I think the number is 369 million (dollars), which is not nearly enough for all of those. But I guess that was the only, you know, handy pot found. So my amendment simply puts it back to the way it is was in the committee mark.

MR. KORB: Bryan, this is Larry Korb. If I could add something, why this is so critical, because Bob Gates, the secretary of Defense, said even if he had 50 billion (dollars) more, he wouldn't buy it. So it's not a question of money. You probably know that General Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, along with the secretary wrote an op-ed in the Post about it. And in the wish list that the Air Force sent up to Congress, this wasn't in it.

So, I mean, it's not just a question of, you know, civilians overruling the military. It's even the military saying they don't want to do this.

Q Got it. Thanks.

OPERATOR: And our next question comes from John Heltman from Inside EPA. Sir, you may state your question.

Q Hi, Congressman Frank. I understand -- well, this money coming from the environmental management -- the clean-up program, I understand that this is -- there maybe other attempts to divert funding from that program to other programs within the defense budget. If that were the case, if it weren't going to F-22s or going to some other program, would you be equally adamant about maintaining the EM budget where it is?

REP. FRANK: I would be adamant. To be honest, I might not be equally because there is an element of threat to any kind of fiscal sanity in the F-22. But I am opposed to taking that money and putting it anywhere else. But I'm particularly vigorously opposed on the F- 22.

Let me put it this way: I might not be the one offering the amendment if it came from somewhere else because I have not been as involved on the general environmental issue. But so, yeah, I would be opposed. But the fact that this is a major assault on the president's effort to control military spending adds to its importance.

Q Yeah. And just one quick follow-up -- oh, I'm sorry --

REP. FRANK: Let me say this. By the way, if this -- as I look at it, because this is a major assault on the president's effort on spending, this will probably be the only combat that F-22 ever has engaged in or will engage in.

Q (Chuckles.) As a just quick follow-up, I understand that there may be a companion amendment in the Senate as well. Have you spoken with your colleagues in the Senate about blocking something like this?

REP. FRANK. No. I think if we do this in the House, that's -- you know, that's where to start. I will be talking to Senate chairman. I'm going to be going at 3:15 over to meet with Senator Kerry on a -- another matter, and I will mention that at the time.

MR. KORB: Okay, and this is Larry Korb. Let me add on this, these DOE projects. I mean, these DOE sites are on the Superfund's list of the most environmentally dangerous facilities. And so you would be threatening, you know, the millions of people that live near the sites along these routes. So it isn't just, "Well, we shouldn't spend it on the F-22." This is an important program.

Q Okay. Thanks a lot.

REP. FRANK: I just emphasize it shows the phoniness of this notion that this is not additional money because even the most conservative people are saying we've got to do that environmental cleanup. So when they pretend to be taking that away, they fully understand that they'll be just enormous pressure to put it back.

OPERATOR: And our next question comes from Roxana Tiron from The Hill newspaper. And you may state your question.

Q Hi, Congressman Frank. I wanted sort of to play a little bit of a devil's advocate here.

REP. FRANK: Null supris. (Laughs.)

Q (Laughs.) There's still a lot of debate over policy regarding yesterday, too. You know, how many -- you know, how many planes would be needed, particularly in Congress. I mean, I'm talking about the members of the Armed Services Committee and so forth.

Representative Abercrombie, you know, who voted against the amendment in the committee, said he would support more F-22s because he's not sure that the number right now is the right one. How about Congress's prerogative to make such decisions in policy and in --

REP. FRANK: Well, it should be, but who do you -- who do you think I am? The Wicked Witch of the North? I'm a member of Congress.

Q I'm just saying -- I know. I'm just saying, but you --

REP. FRANK: Yes, I think this is Congress's prerogative. And I am, as a member of Congress -- I mean, frankly, the question kind of puzzles me. As a member of Congress, I am going to offer an amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives. So, yes, it's Congress's prerogative. I think Congress should be guided to a considerable degree by the advice of the Pentagon.

By the way, you say how many F-22s we need. Can I ask you in your capacity as devil's advocate, "For what do we need them?" Because I have not seen a military use. Are we afraid that the Soviet Union is coming back? Because that's what it was designed for, to defeat the Soviet Union in a war. It's not to blow up people in south Waziristan. It's not very useful for that --

Q So --

REP. FRANK: -- or in Mosul. So my question would be, "For what?"

But the argument that this is I'm not recognizing Congress's prerogatives seems very odd when I'm a member of Congress planning to offer an amendment on the floor of the Congress.

Q No, I understand that. But you were saying that the administration has strongly -- you know, that you're strongly supporting the administration on this. How about people who disagree?

REP. FRANK: Yes, it's a congressional prerogative. Do you think congressional prerogative is only to oppose the administration? I am supporting them in part because I think we have a terrible deficit problem. And if we do not begin to get military spending under control, then even the deficit gets worse and worse and worse, or we cut out almost anything we try to do to improve the quality of life domestically.

You know, people are worried about the cost of health care. Well, enough F-22s and we could forget about any advance in health care.

Q Yeah.

REP. FRANK: But it is not a -- a loss of congressional prerogative to take into account the views of the Defense Department.

Q Thank you.

MR. KORB: And this is Larry Korb. Let me mention that I think you're quite right. Congress obviously does have the power of the purse. And go back to the point I made before: if you had a situation where you had the civilians overruling the military, I think it certainly would be appropriate for Congress to, you know, pay attention to the military.

But this is not a case. I mean, the -- as I say -- read the, you know, Norm Schwartz's op-ed in the Post. I mean, he was opposed to it. And it's not on his wish list. Don't forget Congress asked the military for a wish list. "Tell us what you wanted that you didn't get from the civilians." And it's not on there.

REP. FRANK: And I would just add to it. One way, actually, we might be able to make some money to offset this is to have a contest. You said we need more F-22s. No one has told me what we need them for. So I would be prepared to sponsor a contest to see what it is we need them for, and pay the winner something.

OPERATOR: Again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do have a question or comment, please press star-one on your telephone keypad.

And we have a question from Bruce Olsen (sp) from The Machinists Union. Sir, you may state your question.

Q Well, I guess it's more of a comment that Mr. Frank has always been a good friend of our union, and we appreciate the work that he's done in Congress. But we certainly just wonder why he didn't reach out to us because -- before we put this amendment in -- because literally thousands of our members will be affected by the end of the F-22 program, and when we think about the impact on the lives of ordinary people, it will be tremendous when they lose their jobs.

I know many people talk about the budget deficit, but our union has been particularly hard hit by the trade deficit, which continues to grow year after year. This country has lacked a defense -- excuse me, has lacked an industrial policy. We would just hope that we would come up with one. But in the meantime, you're asking our members really to step off a cliff because the end of this program will mean the end of their jobs at Lockheed Martin, at Boeing, at Pratt & Whitney, and thousands of other suppliers across the United States.

REP. FRANK: Well, I of course have opposed the trade policies that have done this, and I wish for a bigger economic recovery plan. But I fundamentally disagree with the notion that we should build weapons so that we can provide jobs for people.

First, overall, it's a very inefficient way to do that. You know, I'll cite Alan Greenspan here among others who say that, from the economic standpoint, sure, any dollar the government spends can have a job impact, but it will have the least impact when you are producing things that aren't meant to be improving the productive capacity of the economy or to be used.

Any cut that's made reduces jobs. There's no question. I think the answer is where do you make the cut, because if we go ahead with extra money for the F-22s and -- I think ultimately, tens of billions, not just this 2 billion (dollars) -- then that's going to lead to cuts elsewhere.

But I fundamentally disagree with the notion that it is a legitimate purpose of the military budget to create jobs. I am for job creation through the budget, but not by building weapons that we don't need. I do not think that is an adequate justification for a multi-, multi-billion-dollar weapons production line.

MR. KORB: And this Larry Korb. Could I add something here? And I certainly understand what you're talking about, but the money that would have gone to the F-22 is now going into the F-35, which was also produced by Lockheed, Pratt & Whitney, the -- a lot of the same, you know, people are involved. And I think it's really incumbent upon those companies to ensure that they make this transition.

You know, we have ramped up the F-35 production below where the Bush administration thought it would be. And so by 2011 when this production ends, they should be able to, you know, work with you to make sure that, you know, that your members are taken care of.

Q Well, what we're hearing from contractors as if there will be a gap between 2011 and 2014 when we expect to see full production of the F-35. So during that period of time, they're talking about -- there is significant reduction in the skill bases of the workforce, the scope of the workforce and the industrial base of our -- defense industrial base of our country. And so --

MR. KORB: If they're telling you that, they're wrong because the F-35 is going into production. They're making something -- well, actually did something else with the engines, but that's a whole other thing. But we're talking about more planes on the F-35 than you ever had on the F-22. I mean, you're talking about over, you know, 2,500 planes, and the production is going to like 30 aircraft.

REP. FRANK: And let me -- I just -- I understand that people will be losing their jobs, and that is regretful. I would -- but people lose jobs every time any government program is cut. And when you look at the overall deficit, it's not infinitely expandable. So the question is whether we're going to lose some jobs in one place to gain them in another.

But I disagree that the industrial base for defense is at risk. If you compare it to other countries, we will continue to have a leading edge there. We are not talking about shutting down the entire industrial base.

I understand that some people will no longer have the jobs that they had if we stopped building the planes. But I will repeat, I think building weapons not because you need them and they play a role in the defense of the country, but because they produce jobs, is the kind of public policy that gets us in trouble.

Q Well, we know that there is debate within the Air Force. The comments by Admiral Corley about the need for additional F-22s. This is an --

REP. FRANK: For what? Can I ask you what are they going to do? What's the military mission of the F-22 today?

Q I do not pretend to be an expert on it --

REP. FRANK: Well, there is no mission for them. The mission is what you say and I understand the need for that is jobs. I would rather find better ways to do job enhancement.

Q Well, we would, sir, we would just appreciate next time that we enter into some type of discussion with you. We'd be happy to do that before you submit these types of amendments.

REP. FRANK: Well, I have to say, no, I can't agree that I talk to anybody who might lose a job because of a budget cut and I have to say, I do know what the position was. It's not based on any military assessment; it's based on the notion that we'll lose jobs and, again, I think that's just the wrong basis on which to make military spending decisions.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you very much for your question. Operator, is there any more questions in the queue?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir, there are. We have another question from Jeff Abramson from the Orange Control Today. Sir, you may state your question.

Q Hi. Thanks for taking my call. Representative Frank, I'm wondering your assessment of the administration's efforts to rein in spending, so now we're talking about the F-35 as sort of the replacement in ways in terms of the expenditures for the Osprey aircraft --

REP. FRANK: Oh, the administration doesn't go far enough for me. I would cut, make further cuts.

I do agree, however, areas where both the administration and the committees deserve some credit which is cutting back on this wholly unnecessary missile defense. I continue to be un-persuaded that the Iranians, even if they get that terrible election situation cleared up plan to attack the Czech Republic, so I don't feel the need to spend billions of dollars to protect fraud against them, but I am not happy with the administration's approach. I don't think they're doing enough, but that's precisely why I want to make this fight here because if they can't be sustained on this one, the chances of getting more serious about it and making some of the deeper cuts that we really need for the stake of the economy will evaporate.

Q Just to follow up. Do you have a sense of where you'd like to see those further cuts, in particular, or how you would make that assessment?

REP. FRANK: I do. I have a number of others, actually, Larry Korb and others have helped draw that up. There were other areas -- missile defense as I said is a very big one. It was at the DDG that we think also -- the destroyer, where I think they are doing some excess and then, of course, you can clean up some of the procedures. But missile defense and the destroyer were two other big ticket items that I think could be cut back.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you.

MR. KORB: Yeah. And if I can add on the F-35, I think we're ramping up production too quickly on that given, you know, the problems we've had. The last thing you want to do is ramp up production and then have to go back and fix it. That's, you know, a very troubled program. Obviously, you could get rid of a lot more of the nuclear weapons, hopefully, in the agreement with the Soviets, you know, we can get down right away to no more than 1,000 missiles and that will help save some money.

I think you can make further cuts in national missile defense over and above the ones that Secretary Gates said.

So there are a lot of, you know, a lot of areas that we could take a look at. The Future Combat Systems -- they did the vehicles, but the technologies, again, they're having a lot of problems.

MODERATOR: And our next question comes from Kate Ling from Greenwire. Kate, you may state your question.

Q Hi, Representative Frank, thanks so much. I just have a quick sort of procedural question. So you're going to take the amendment to the Rules Committee tonight. They have to accept that, is that correct? And then --

REP. FRANK: Right. And I'm lobbying my leadership to make sure that it's in order. I've talked -- several other people offered amendments on the F-22. I think mine was the only that did this transfer back into the environmental cleanup.

Q Okay.

REP. FRANK: So I'm hoping that mine will be the one that will be accepted by the Rules Committee.

Q Okay. Do you know who else offered it -- amendment?

REP. FRANK: Well, Congressman Tierney had one.

Q Okay.

REP. FRANK: And Congresswoman Edwards from Maryland.

Q Okay. And so at this point, it's just offered? You don't know for sure it's going to be --

REP. FRANK: No. The Rules Committee -- I would be very disappointed if they didn't do it. We are trying to defend the president's position, you know, the chairman of the committee voted against it and I have told the Speaker's office that I think it's very important for all the reasons I talked about earlier, you know, as the first kind of battle in the effort to trying to contain excessive military spending that is being made.

Q All right. Thanks so much.

MODERATOR: And we have a question from Brian Venter (sp) from The Boston Globe. Sir, you may state your question.

Q Sorry, that was a misfire. I think I'm all set.

MODERATOR: Okay.

MR. KORB: Sort of like the missile --

REP. FRANK: All right. Well, I'm going to bow out, but you have the great expertise and wisdom of Larry Korb, so I don't feel like I've abandoned anybody.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, Congressman. Operator, are there any more questions in the queue for Larry Korb or more generally for the call?

OPERATOR: No, sir, there appear to be no further questions at this time.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. Larry, is there anything you'd like to add?

MR. KORB: I think the key thing here is to look at the F-22 and recognize that Don Rumsfeld and the Air Force agreed on one 183 two years ago. Gates said even if he had more money he wouldn't do this. You've got the worst of all possible worlds because you're taking money out of an important program and this $369 million is just a down payment. Once you do that, then you end up, you know, doing like we did in the supplemental this year, putting, you know, more planes in this and you're going to have to make the decision sooner or later. Every defense program ends, I mean, we go back and take a look at all the planes we've built over the years and now is the time that everybody agrees, the military, the civilians and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, so it's pretty hard to make an argument for it that's based on national interest.

MODERATOR: Terrific. Thank you, Congressman Frank for joining. Thank you, Lawrence Korb for joining.


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