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Government: Favoring cops over fighter planes and rocket ships

February 16, 2011 |  5:06 pm

BoehnerThe House debate over HR 1 -- the continuing resolution that would fund the government through Sept. 30 -- has been full of surprises, some of them good ones. Take, for instance, the vote Wednesday to eliminate the back-up engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Having rejected four proposed cuts of varying sizes to the defense budget, the House turned around and killed a project championed by Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). The proposal came from second-term Republican Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida, and it passed with broad bipartisan support -- 110 Republicans and 123 Democrats supported it, with 120 Republicans and 68 Democrats opposed.

Defenders of the second engine project argued that the competitive pressure it provided would save billions of dollars in the long run. But that's a loser argument these days, at least in the House, which is focused on savings now

But it's hard to extrapolate from the actions Wednesday to a coherent vision of smaller government. The vote that really confounds me is the one in favor of a proposal by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to restore $298 million for COPS, a neighborhood policing program. The money is to come out of NASA's budget, shrinking that agency's funds by an additional 1.6%.

I wouldn't argue that hiring cops is more or less important than conducting space missions. But hiring cops is clearly a local responsibility, and NASA is clearly a federal responsibility. If you're going to shrink the federal government, the starting point should be eliminating its involvement in what are purely local affairs. You can't get more local than neighborhood policing.

But that's not the logic typically employed by members of Congress. In their calculus, anything that promotes law enforcement is A Good Thing. And until NASA has a mission as sexy as winning the race to the moon, it will never be able to compete with programs like COPS.

-- Jon Healey

Photo: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

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