Prince of the Hill

Pennsylvania lawmaker John “Call me Mr. Controversy” Murtha seems to be staging a one-man coup of defense budgeting. In the absence of a 2010 budget, the chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on defense might be asserting his power of the purse, albeit an empty one at this point.

Blurtha, so dubbed for speaking his mind with little warning, has moved forward with committee business, scheduling numerous hearings with defense leaders about funding and program issues. The Prince of Pork, who has had his share of royal tiffs with the Pentagon, held court on myriad and pricy issues.

So, where is the meat? Typically the budget proposal lands on lawmakers’ desks in early February — but not so this year. The White House pushed the deadline to April 21, giving it time to create its own set of funding priorities. Ah, but this executive branch move has proved but a prop for the true star of this passion play, and Blurtha seems to be determining courses of action on costly and controversial programs. (Apparently more time is needed. It seems the federal budget will not go from the executive to the legislative branch until mid-May.)

Refueler Rebid — “Split the award!” says Blurtha, though Defense Secretary (and Occasional Superhero) Robert M. Gates disagrees. If we don’t, it will just be contested again. (The Air Force’s attempt to replace its ancient fleet of KC-135 refuelers stalled because of controversy and protests over the contract award. The deal is worth at least $35 billion to the winner. At the center of the controversy are Northrop Grumman, EADS, and sentimental fave Boeing.)

Presidential Helo Hiccup (VH-71) — “We need it! But build a cheaper one!” says Blurtha. Lockheed Martin Corp. had this one in the bag, but program costs, due in part to secret service gear, more than doubled from $6 billion to $13 billion. Oops.

F/A18E/F Hornet Ho’down — “Mo’ Mo’ Mo’,” says Blurtha. Love those things. We need MORE! (The Navy and his beloved Marine Corps fly the F-18. Murtha is a retired Marine. The Marine Corps actually is based in his western Pennsylvania district, but that’s a secret.)

F-22 Raptor Rapture — “Unavoidable. Must keep parts suppliers in business!” says Blurtha, though he might be more enthused if it impacted his district (or the Marine Corps). (The number of F-22s has been slashed in the past several years. Developmental costs have been staggering.)

Damn the dollars (and the Pentagon and maybe the White House) and full speed ahead!

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