WASHINGTON – Even before the congressional supercommittee failed to reach a deal averting drastic cuts to defense spending, one group of lawmakers began mobilizing to protect a favorite weapons program.
Reps. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair and Kay Granger, R-Texas, announced the formation of a Congressional Joint Strike Fighter Caucus with 49 members from both parties. Its purpose: to protect funding for the F-35 stealth fighter. The plane, as the most expensive weapons program in history, is one of the biggest potential targets in the defense budget.
The members of the caucus are also some of the top recipients of political money from the company that designs and builds the fighter, Lockheed Martin. The company’s political action committee and its employees have given the caucus members $1.3 million in political contributions over their careers, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Granger, whose west Fort Worth district includes the main Lockheed airplane-assembly plant, which employs 15,000, has received $210,000 from the company’s PAC and employees. That includes $33,500 so far this year.
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The work of the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus has recently, in the wake of the supercommittee’s failure, become more pressured. Created by President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans as part of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling this summer, the supercommittee was charged with finding $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade. Since the 12 members failed to reach a compromise, the terms of the deal force an across-the-board cut of $1.2 trillion, with half coming from defense programs.
Spokesmen for Granger and Dicks did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
In a statement announcing the formation of the caucus, the lawmakers said their goal was to provide “accurate and timely information on the development, testing, and deployment of our next-generation fighter.”
Dicks, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, has received a total of $97,700 over his career from Lockheed’s PAC and employees.
Lockheed spokesman Tom Casey said the company’s PAC supports lawmakers for a wide variety of reasons.
“Lockheed Martin supports a wide range of political leaders based on their level of interest and commitment in national security, homeland security, and other issues of importance to the corporation, including education and technology,” Casey said.