Military Gravy Train

I could only chuckle as I watched the press releases and messages on Twitter roll in Thursday evening as the Pentagon announced its choice for a new Air Force refueling tanker plane.

The news to me wasn’t so much who won the tanker competition, but a reminder of how widely distributed U.S. defense contracts are, and how much the Pentagon has become a jobs creation magnet for lawmakers around the country.

It’s also a reminder of when people talk about making cuts in Pentagon weapons systems or the military itself, the impact isn’t restricted to just one area.

The big winner yesterday was Boeing, which will get a contract worth over $30 billion; the initial award was $3.5 billion to design and build 18 tanker jets.

Boeing has long been identified with Seattle and Washington State, so it was no surprise to get celebratory statements from lawmakers there.

“This was a real victory of our congressional delegation,” said Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

“Great news for Fairchild AFB and Washington State jobs!” Tweeted Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).

But my Inbox and my Twitter feed quickly started filling up with much more reaction than just from the Seattle area.

“Great news for a great manufacturer!” tweeted Rep. John Larsen (D-CT). Why was a Connecticut Democrat excited about the Boeing victory?

“Boeing tanker powered by Pratt & Whitney wins $35b KC-X contract,” wrote Larsen.

And Pratt & Whitney, which builds airplane engines, is headquarted in Connecticut.

But the smiles didn’t stop in the Nutmeg State.

“I applaud the Pentagon’s decision to award Boeing with the contract,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).

Why was a Missouri Republican excited about this tanker deal?

Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security unit is based near St. Louis, and the last time I checked, it was the largest employer in St. Louis County.

Washington State, Connecticut, Missouri – where should we go next?

“With Boeing’s large presence in South Carolina, I am delighted that a local company will be responsible for building nearly 200 refueling aircraft for the United States Air Force,” said Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), who called it “great news for the workers of South Carolina.”

Next, let’s run across the border into Georgia, where freshman Republican Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) hailed the tanker announcement as well.

“Because of Boeing’s “NewGen Tanker” program, Georgia stands to gain more than 370 jobs and it will bring in more than $17 million annually to our state,” said Scott.

Even before one plane has been built, there were already lawmakers staking a claim to where the new tanker planes should be based.

“The 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus, AFB has long stood ready to train the next generation of tanker operators, and they look forward to continuing the mobility training mission,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), making a quick play for the planes in Oklahoma.

The Pentagon was making no announcements about where the planes and all their support personnel would go at this time.

“The program will deliver the first 18 aircraft by 2017. Basing decisions for the aircraft will take place over the next couple of years,” read a Pentagon statement.

Washington State, Connecticut, Missouri, South Carolina, Oklahoma – let’s next go north to Kansas, where Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) celebrated the announcement.

“I am proud of our workers at Boeing Wichita who can outcompete anyone,” said Roberts, adding that an estimated 7,500 jobs could come to Wichita’s aviation industry, with an estimated economic impact of $388 million.

Next, let’s head to the Golden State, where 4,500 jobs would be created in the greater Los Angeles area for a number of Boeing suppliers.

From California, let’s fly back across the country to Florida, where Boeing has estimated that almost 2,000 jobs with over a dozen different suppliers would generate almost $100 million a year in terms of economic impact for the Sunshine State.

I’m sure there are other states which will benefit, but there’s a good cross-section for you.

Now let’s play a little hypothetical political game – let’s say that in 12 years, the tanker program is coming in way over budget, there’s questions about whether the Air Force should really buy all of the planes, or just some of them, and there are calls to limit production of the planes in an effort to save money.

With the operations spread out over so many states, how hard would it be to limit that program? You know the answer – very hard.

It’s just a hypothetical, but one that I’ve covered many times before in the halls of Congress.