Let’s play Jeopardy! “I’ll take Wasteful Government Spending for $1000, Alex.”
Accounting for a large chunk of the federal budget, this industry has been plagued by corruption, false expectations, missed deadlines, and chronic overspending for decades.
“What is the defense industry?”
If a President is going to have a chance of cutting spending while simultaneously improving national defense, the only way to do it is to sniff out the instances of waste that plague this supremely important role of the federal government. They have to keep us safe. They need to keep us strong. Despite being a devoted small-government Federalist, I’m not one who calls for defense cuts in the traditional fashion, i.e. shutting down bases and buying fewer bullets.
That’s the part that I love about Trump’s current stance. He’s doing what he knows best: attempting to make deals. By pitting old enemies Boeing versus Lockheed Martin, he should be able to work out better deals. This mentality is one of a handful of reasons I’m encouraged by a Trump Presidency. Unfortunately, my fears are also manifesting themselves very quickly and in the same breath.
First, let’s look at the Tweet that prompted all the hoopla.
Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
Some of you probably see the problems here. The F-18 Super Hornet, while being a fine piece of killing technology, is not an F-35. Not even close. Asking for them to build something comparable is like saying, “I don’t like the costs of the F-250 Diesel, so I asked Chevy to price out a comparable Malibu sedan.”
The F-35 has advanced stealth technology. The F-18 Super Hornet does not and cannot. The F-35 gives the Marines the vertical take off and landing capabilities they need. The F-18 Super Hornet does not and cannot.
They aren’t comparable. It would be easier and less costly to rush production of a next-gen aircraft which, of course, would be a tremendous mistake. Before anyone says that we don’t need the F-35, let’s keep in mind that Russia and China are building their own variations. Air superiority is absolutely crucial if we’re to maintain an edge on them, so downgrading to a “comparable” F-18 Super Hornet would be devastating.
All of this analysis is meaningless if this is all a bluff which it almost certainly is. That brings me to the other thing I hate about it. Twitter is a great venue for a lot of things that the President can do and I’ve admitted in the past that the idea is growing on me (as long as he minds his spelling). Playing cards on this scale is not one of those things made for Twitter. Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program influences nearly 150,000 American jobs. Immediately following the Tweet, their stocks dropped 1.9%, reducing their market value by $1.2 billion in 140-characters or less.
This is all part of the negotiation “dance,” as Trump calls it, but I’m very concerned that talks such as these, which should be handled behind closed doors (he met with CEOs from both companies last week), will send the wrong message to those affected. How many of the 150,000 are now concerned about their jobs? How many investors lost a ton of money from his Tweet? How many more people will lose money from investing in Boeing after reacting to this Tweet, only to learn next week that he worked out a better deal with Lockheed Martin? What if, based upon the public display of condescension, a company such as Lockheed Martin or someone in the future doesn’t want to play ball? If Trump does invoke his power to cancel multi-billion dollar deals made with the government, future projects will have to contend with the “Trump factor,” compelling some companies to raise prices or avoid government contracts altogether because they’re simply too risky.
If Trump wants to cut government spending, I won’t stand in his way. I’ll cheer him on when he’s successful. However, the way that he goes about doing it might end up costing the country more in the long run. There are times when playing loose as Trump is wont to do can be a very good thing. Making threats on Twitter that influence American workers and investors is no the type of loose play the country needs.