This is pretty much the same confrontation as last year. The Pentagon calls for getting rid of some useless weapons systems, Congress resists, and Bob Gates calls for a veto.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he will urge President Barack Obama to veto a coming $726 billion defense authorization bill if it contains funding for unwanted projects Gates has been trying to cut for years.

Gates has been vocal about financial reform at the Pentagon, trying to rein in some big-ticket contracts and telling Congress to stop spending money on C-17 transport planes that are not needed and a $485 million alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The JSF engine program – already delayed and over budget – could end up costing taxpayers billions of dollars, according to Gates.

But with jobs at stake, Congress has ignored those requests for years and continued to appropriate funds for the C-17 and a second F-35 engine.

“The detailed conditions they [Congress] have imposed on the overall JSF program would make it essentially un-executable and impose unacceptable schedule and budget costs,” Gates said Thursday at a Pentagon briefing.

But here’s what I want to know. Would Gates also urge a veto if the defense authorization bill also included, say, an end to the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, with implementation delayed until after the Pentagon study?

Ultimately, the result of this last year was that Gates and Obama got part of what they wanted – the F-22 was cancelled, but the engine for the F-35 and the new C-17 transports remained. So will Congress budget this year, amidst a midterm election, when those defense projects bring home a lot of jobs to districts? Stay tuned.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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