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Published: Friday, 8/14/2009

Let them eat jets

SOMETIMES even the U.S. House of Representatives can be shamed into doing the right thing. Earlier this week, lawmakers dropped a plan to spend $550 million - more than twice the money the Pentagon requested - on four Air Force passenger jets for use by senior government officials.

The line item had been folded into the $636 billion bill passed by the House to fund the Defense Department through fiscal 2010. In less austere times, few would have blinked at such self-serving treatment.

The Pentagon originally asked for $220 million so it could buy one Gulfstream V and three business-class Boeing aircraft. Two were already being leased for government officials.

But the House responded to the Defense request by budgeting $550 million for three Gulfstream jets and five Boeing 737s appropriate for executive use. Even Marie Antoinette would have blushed at the legislative audacity.

Once the details of the deal became known, it was only a matter of time before the screaming began. The House's miscalculation signifies the kind of fiscal obliviousness that gives rise to right-wing tea parties.

So the Democratic majority's leadership responded to the public criticism, press inquiries, and Pentagon resistance by renouncing its wasteful maneuver and agreeing to abide by the Pentagon's original, lower request.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and others consider the bloated procurement process a threat to any attempts to right-size the military. The House's bid for more executive jets would have only made matters worse.

Americans can be glad the leadership backed down, but waste of public dollars should never fly in the first place.

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