Fixing Scott Brown’s Dilemma

Fixing Scott Brown

During his campaign for Ted Kennedy’s well-worn Senate seat, Scott Brown carried on about Democrats’ “wasteful spending” of our tax dollars.

Senators customarily bring home the bacon by attaching an appropriation to a budget bill. Many such appropriations could be classified as stimulus spending. Of course, voters in any given state don’t think of what they get as “pork.” That term only applies to the funding that senators from other states get when they selfishly use our tax money to enhance their chances for re-election.

Brown, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has to decide whether to bring home the bacon by voting “Yes” on a budget bill that may well include some Grade A pork for Massachusetts, or vote “No” in order to cut wasteful spending.

At issue is whether a Department of Defense (DoD) contract should be reinstated so that workers at GE’s Lynn plant, which builds both fighter and commercial jet engines, can continue building engines for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets. The Department of Defense made the decision that in 2014 a Pratt-Whitney plant in Connecticut would become the sole builder of these engines.

The Boston Globe (3/28/10) reported two arguments in support of reinstating the contract: 1) protecting workers’ jobs, and 2) forcing down costs through competition between the two corporations. The jobs argument has merit – we don’t need more layoffs – but would competition mean that GE or Pratt-Whitney would take a hit in their profit margin? Safe to say the answer is “No.” Would they look at their labor costs? You betcha. Try to get workers to accept lower wages by playing them off against each other? Tried and true formula. Tackle health care costs? Only to the extent that they would want labor to pay more for this benefit. Both GE and Pratt-Whitney would have been able to save a bundle if they had helped enact a single-payer plan.

Any thinking person must also wonder how many fighter jets do we really need to defend our country? Two thousand over the next 25 years seems a little over the top – even given the fact that we are the biggest arms exporters in the world. Our allies can be counted on to purchase some of them, as they have done in the past, as Iran did.

We also spend more on our military than all other countries COMBINED!! Obama says he wants to have a nuclear-free world. Why not make it a more peaceful one, too? And achieve a healthier planet in the process.

There is a way to help Brown (and 99 of his colleagues) out of his dilemma. Former Congressman Ted Weiss, who represented a New York City district for ten years, introduced the Defense Economic Adjustment Act (H.R. 101) in the early eighties and in each new Congress after that until his death in 1992. This bill provided a way to get off our war economy without disruption and dislocation. In today’s world, it could move us toward a greener and more sustainable economy. The Act states:

It is the purpose of this Act to provide the means through which the United States can promote orderly economic adjustment which will (1) minimize the dislocation of workers, communities, and industries, (2) assure that such dislocations do not compound recessionary trends, and (3) encourage conversion of technologies and managerial and worker skills developed in defense production to projects which serve the civilian sector.

To accomplish this, a Defense Economic Adjustment Council would be set up in order to:

Encourage the preparation of concrete plans for non-defense-related public projects addressing vital areas of national concern (such as transportation, housing, education, health care, environmental protection, and renewable energy resources) by the various civilian agencies of the Government, as well as by State and local governments.

To insure a smooth conversion, the act would establish an Alternative Use Committee “at every defense facility to develop a plan to convert to peacetime production.” This plan would be implemented “in the event of a government decision to reduce, modify, or close the facility, terminate any defense contract or disapprove a license to sell or export defense materials to non-governmental parties.”

This committee would assess the skills of the current work force and match as many as possible with those needed for a new project. Training in new skills would be part of the program.

The act would address the argument that the contract for the F-35 be restored in order to prevent layoffs because the act provides for workers to receive pay and benefits commensurate with current ones during the conversion period.

In referring to the DoD decision to close out work on this engine, one of GE’s executives lamented to the Globe:

“This will have an impact on our plant for the next thirty years,” said Maria Deacon, general manager and area executive for the Lynn plant. “If we lose this we would have nothing to replace it.”

Well, hold on. Why not convert GE to the manufacture of engines for the new trains and buses that we need for our mass transportation infrastructure if we are to deal with the looming global crisis?

Senator Brown has a state Senate record that shows that he cares about the environment. Does he want to show the citizens of Massachusetts that he can also provide visionary leadership by addressing some of our seemingly intractable problems?

Well, here’s his chance.