By Carole Thorpe
Chairwoman of the Jefferson Area Tea Party, Charlottesville VA
On February 16th on the floor of the House of Representatives, Congressman Robert Hurt spoke our truth to power for nearly two and a half minutes for the urgent need to cut government spending and reduce the national debt. It was a masterful statement and a bravura performance. Congressman Hurt demonstrated a firm command of the devastating statistics which add up to our nation’s crisis, clearly laid out the impact on his constituents in Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, and presented it all with statesman-like authority. Both a transcript of his comments and an accompanying link to a video recording of the C-SPAN broadcast (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9qw6YMJ4j0) are posted on his congressional web site.
After watching this impressive presentation, who would not feel assured that our congressman grasps the gravity of the ominous mess in which we find ourselves? In short, “he gets it.” However, any afterglow quickly dissipates with the rude awakening that followed less than three and a half hours later that day.
Incredibly, Congressman Hurt torpedoed the good ship he built and set afloat that morning by voting in opposition to the Rooney Amendment, designed to cut funding for the bottomless money pit known as the alternate engine for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This program is universally scorned as the poster child of unnecessary, wasteful government spending. A notorious and historic boondoggle, it is an orchestrated grudge match that pits the winning bidder of the original engine contract, United Technologies Corp. unit Pratt & Whitney, against the manufacturer of an alternate engine, General Electric and Rolls Royce-England. Taxpayers are annually robbed to underwrite an expensive competition for which we are promised production of the least expensive engine possible to ease our bottom line.
Along with the Pentagon, both President Obama and his predecessor have wanted to kill this project for years. Before we falsely laud this as an example of true bi-partisanship, we should note that President Bush had political reasons to support the original Pratt & Whitney engine as pork for Texas – and like all good Progressives, President Obama just wants to slash the military at every opportunity he gets. Yes, the whole debacle is a tangled web of special interests and pork barrel politics. Neither side has pure motives nor clean hands, and that must be taken into account.
There is one question that continues to loom large for the taxpayer and the lack of a satisfactory answer produces the appropriate gnawing in the gut. Of the 28 aircraft used by our military, why is the F-35 JSF the only one deemed by some to need a dual source engine? Don’t hold your breath waiting for a logical answer because there isn’t one.
There are pork-laden goodies up for grabs for several states involved, most notably for Ohio and Virginia who both benefit from production of the alternate engine. Speaker of the House John Boehner rallies support for G.E. and RR-E for the manufacturing the pork he can bring home to Ohio – and the same is true for Virginia, where every one of our eleven of congressmen joined in bi-partisanship to muster a unified vote for pork’s sake.
We taxpayers continue to get the hard sell from Congress in the form of the spend-money-to-save-money utopia. Even if we give our representatives the benefit of the doubt for their motives, it is a luxury we can perhaps afford only when our coffers are flush and the economy is good. But we certainly cannot afford it now when we must cut drastically today to save our tomorrow and our children’s future.
From Capitol Hill just minutes before the vote, Congressman Hurt thoughtfully returned my previous call inquiring his intended vote and the rationale behind it. He explained to me that it would be, in his words, “fiscally responsible” (and he misguidedly added “tea party compatible”) to fund the $450 million now in the Continuing Resolution in addition to the eventual $3 billion projected by the Pentagon, in exchange for the potential long term savings of $20 billion from the projected $100 billion final price tag.
There it was. The spend-money-to-save-money utopia reared its ugly head accompanied by the distinct odor of Washington business-as-usual wafting around it. I was disheartened to say the least.
So why should we place special significance on this single vote on this single issue? Wasted taxpayer dollars aside (and that’s no small aside), this is possibly an early indicator of the way Congressman Hurt may vote in the future when confronted with a choice between seriously cutting waste or siding with inside-the-Beltway delusional thinking. Frankly, if he’s not willing to cut wasteful spending for this monstrosity, isn’t it fair to ask how firm is his resolve?
Thankfully, the House voted 233 to 198 to pass the Rooney Amendment and cut funding on their part in a largely bi-partisan effort. Roughly half of the new wave of freshman representatives stepped up to the plate and smacked this no-brainer softball out of the park. Kudos to them, but sadly Congressman Hurt suited up for the wrong team and whiffed at the plate in THE most nationally visible game-of-the-day.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Congressman Hurt at the opening of his new district office in Charlottesville. While the media largely reported my presence, they predictably neglected to report that I shook his hand in their full view and thanked him for keeping his promise to vote to repeal Obamacare. Later, Congressman Hurt graciously granted me a few private minutes in his office. During our exchange of thoughts about the raising the national debt ceiling, he expressed a sincere desire to build a good relationship with the Jefferson Area Tea Party.
Despite his failure of leadership on the F-35 JSF vote, I remain optimistic that Congressman Hurt can be a responsive representative and an effective advocate of our core principles and agenda. He has demonstrated more positives than negatives so far, but I think we are wise to examine his ill-advised vote on this issue and pause with caution. I also believe it is important that both he and the public know early on that the JATP means business to praise our representatives when they act responsibly and admonish them when they do not.
We encourage and expect Congressman Hurt to cut wasteful spending while hoping his future votes will elicit words of praise rather than disappointment from our organization.