Vermont F-35 Base Called Political Pork for Senior Democratic Senator
By William Boardman Email address removed
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT by (BurlFreePress)
What Happens When You Get Too Invested in a Disaster?
While it's too soon, perhaps, to say that the over-budget, overdue, and under-performing F-35 joint strike fighter is in a political tailspin, having its biggest Senate booster accused of pushing for political pork at the expense of his poorer constituents hasn't made the controversial stealth bomber's flight path less bumpy.
According to the Boston Globe, the Air Force "fudged" its assessment of the Vermont Air National Guard Base in Burlington, Vermont, in order to give Vermont's senior Senator, Patrick Leahy, D-VT, a political plum that could not be justified on its merits. Despite three years growing local opposition to basing an F-35 squadron of nuclear-capable stealth bombers in Vermont's most densely populated area, Leahy has spent more years cheerleading the Air Force plan while at the same time refusing to meet with his unhappy constituents.
The Air Force first planned to announce its final Burlington basing decision in the fall of 2012, then pushed it back to the winter of 2013, and then to the spring. On April 18, four days after the Globe story went largely unrebutted, the Air Force announced that the decision would not be made until the fall and that there would be yet another public comment period during the summer.
Sen. Leahy, 73, who is legally blind in one eye, did not serve in the military. He is co-chair of the Senate's National Guard Caucus, which has 88 members.
F-35 Getting Too, Late, Too Expensive, and Too Dysfunctional?
Outside of Vermont, the F-35 program continues to struggle in more basic ways. Its cost is already 100% over budget, having cost more than $400 billion since 2001, with the plane still in the testing phase. Technical problems have grounded it for extended periods this year. And foreign buyers, having planned on a $70 million plane, are reducing or cancelling orders as the cost has risen above $200 million each (although DefenseWorld.net reported that the U.S. offered F-35s to South Korea at a discounted price of $180 million).
Whether the Air Force decided to delay its F-35 basing decision due to the Globe's allegations against Sen. Leahy is presently unknown, but the Senator has supported basing the F-35 at the Burlington Airport since long before the Air Force made Burlington one of its top basing candidates.
And Sen. Leahy has remained adamantly in support of the Air Force plan as it has become increasingly controversial over the past three years. He has consistently defended the F-35 while refusing to respond substantively to its associated problems, including excess noise, loss of property value, human health impairment, and environmental degradation.
No One Has Said Senator Leahy Has Dome Anything Illegal
The charges against Sen. Leahy, made in a front page story in the Boston Globe April 14, are not charges of criminality, but rather of the familiar political corruption that passes for business-as-usual in Washington. In response, Leahy issued a brief non-denial denial, saying dishonestly:
"The Air Force selected the Vermont Guard as its preferred choice for the F-35s on the merits, based on the Vermont Air Guard's unsurpassed record, its top-flight personnel and facilities, and its strategic location. Vague, anonymous, uninformed and rehashed conspiracy theories cannot change those facts."