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Cutting a Wasteful Defense Program Is Good, but Attacking Entitlements Is Better

Having long advocated robust defense spending, I am obliged to also admit that not all defense dollars are spent wisely. Therefore, I applaud the House for voting to cut $450 million in funding for a second F-35 engine.

This has been a long-standing boondoggle pushed by lobbyists for General Electric and Rolls Royce, which are anxious to get a split of the engine contract that would otherwise go exclusively to Pratt & Whitney. The leadership of the Defense Department has long pushed for the elimination of the second engine — with no luck. It has been inserted into budget after budget by lawmakers intent on saving a program that produces jobs and campaign donations.

Yesterday, however, many Republicans joined with most Democrats to kill the second engine. Now the battle moves to the Senate, where John McCain has led efforts to eliminate this wasteful program.

But while killing the second engine is an important symbolic victory, it will do little to eliminate a budget deficit of $1.5 trillion this year. Even the elimination of the entire Department of Defense, with a base budget of more than $500 billion, would not save us from drowning in red ink. Balancing the budget requires hard choices about entitlement spending, which accounts for the bulk of federal spending. Cutting a universally derided defense program is relatively easy for lawmakers to do. Trimming Social Security or Medicare will require a lot more courage. So far, that courage has not been evident — although it is starting to materialize, at least among House Republicans.