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You can't kill F-22, Georgians tell Gates

Should military spending be seen as a 'jobs program'?

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Mr. Cowley says the F-22 is in some ways antithetical to the new challenges. In recent conflicts, such heavy weaponry tends to undermine local civilian governments by its sheer power – especially reports of civilians being struck by 500-pound bombs dropped from great altitudes. Instead, Gates vows to beef up Special Forces units, which have been widely credited with successfully confronting insurgent resistance.

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In many ways, Gates's gambit is a test of congressional power. If successful on most fronts, especially on the F-22, this year's proposal to Congress could clear the battlefield for deeper cuts in 2011.

"The only clear strategy [behind Gates's proposal] is to pay for the war that's in front of you and mortgage future threats in the hope that those are problems you don't have to face" says James Jay Carafano, a defense expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington "Not that defense is a jobs program ... but in an economy when you want to preserve high-paying union jobs, this [decision] is irrational. It's not a stimulus package, it's an unemployment package."

Gates acknowledges that "direct employment of the F-22 will go from about 24,000 this year to about 11,000 in 2011," as he told "NewsHour." But, he said, "Joint Strike Fighter [F-35 production] will go from 38,000 people working this year to 82,000 people that work on that plane in direct support in 2011. So there are puts and takes."

In any case, members of Congress here face a rocky time trying to save the F-22 and its jobs in Marietta. Lockheed-Martin is in somewhat of a bind. Gates has promised to beef up the order for F-35s, and the company builds both advanced fighters.

"We're assessing the impact of the secretary's decisions on all affected programs," Joe Stout, a spokesman for the company, told the New Mexico Business Weekly newspaper.

At the same time, Georgia's congressional delegation is a shadow of what it was when former Sen. Sam Nunn chaired the Armed Services Committee. The state has lost several installations in recent base-closing orders.

The go-to guy for saving the plane is likely to be Senator Isakson, who helped derail an earlier proposal by Gates to kill the F-22 program.

Though he has little committee clout, Isakson is known as a frank and trustworthy coalition-builder. His tactic likely will be to target union-state Democrats and convince them that the F-22 is a "shovel-ready" jobs program and a necessary deterrent. Along with fellow Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R), who sits on the Armed Services Committee, and possibly Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. (D), who is the closest Georgia has to an inside line to President Obama, Isakson has at least the seeds of a coalition to build on.

Also at stake could be the impact of the decision on stalwart union workers, who helped to put Obama over the top in last year's presidential election.

Because of the union dynamic, "Democrats are caught in a paradox on this one," says Charlie Harper, a well-connected blogger who writes under the pseudonym Icarus, at PeachPundit.com.

Goen, the union boss, says job losses are inevitable at the already below-capacity Marietta plant. While Gates' comments seemed to indicate that F-35 production could ramp up immediately, the current plan is for the assembly line to start in 2014, a potential four-year gap in which Lockheed-Martin, the state's 11th-largest employer, would struggle to find jobs for idled F-22 builders, Goen says.

"We are in a bad fix in this country," he says. "We have an opportunity to continue the work here to help the economy and we're throwing it out the window."

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