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Crawford: Georgia's senators show skewed priorities
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If you are trying to figure out what your congressmen really believe in, don't focus on what they say - look closely at what they do when it comes time to vote.

A good example of that involves Georgia's two senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, and their approach to spending about $2 billion of your money.

The two senators, especially Chambliss, have worked hard this summer to take nearly $2 billion out of the defense budget and earmark it for the building of more F-22 fighter jets at Marietta's Lockheed Martin plant.

Should we really be spending $2 billion to build more F-22s, considering their spotty track record?

The F-22 is the most expensive fighter jet ever commissioned by the Air Force, at a cost of about $350 million per aircraft. For all of that money, however, the Defense Department is getting an overpriced jet that breaks down easily and still has not been flown in combat over Iraq or Afghanistan.

Here are some criticisms of the F-22 that come not from left-wing commentators, but from weapons experts and Pentagon analysts:

• The F-22 requires more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour it spends in the skies. It costs nearly $50,000 an hour to fly one, which is much higher than the cost of the jet it is supposed to replace.

• The F-22 is a "stealth" fighter that is supposed to be hard for radar to detect. Its radar-absorbing metallic skin is the main cause of maintenance problems, including problems flying in rainy weather.

• In the period from October 2008 to this May of this year, only 55 percent of the F-22s deployed have been available to fulfill their missions guarding U.S. airspace.

• The F-22's radar-absorbing canopy has been a source of problems, with a stuck hatch imprisoning a pilot in 2006. The canopy doesn't last more than 18 months because it loses its strength.

• Canopy visibility for the F-22 also declines quickly and the canopy has to be refurbished at a cost of $120,000 after an average of 331 hours of flying time rather than the stipulated 800 hours.

Senators like John McCain, an Arizona Republican, have derided the F-22 as a prime example of pork barrel spending for unneeded weapons systems.

On top of all these design flaws and maintenance problems, the F-22 is a jet that the defense department does not want. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican originally appointed by George W. Bush, said the $2 billion that would have been spent for more F-22s is more urgently needed to support American troops fighting in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama said he would veto any spending bill that included the F-22 funding.

Chambliss and Isakson pushed ahead anyway in their attempts to move around $2 billion in the defense spending bill to pay for even more of these fighter jets. They appear to have been unsuccessful, although anything is possible once Congress comes back into session next month.

Their actions are defensible from the standpoint of taking care of their constituents. Lockheed Martin is an important employer for Georgia and you can understand why the two senators would want to funnel more money to it.

But Chambliss and Isakson both voted against another $2 billion in funding that would have had a much bigger impact on Georgia businesses and consumers: the additional money for the "cash for clunkers" program approved by the Senate last week.

You can make the argument that this may not be a wise expenditure because it adds to the federal deficit. The "cash for clunkers" program, however, has at least been successful in helping financially distressed auto dealers bring buyers into their showrooms. For some dealers, it could be the difference between shutting down and staying in business.

The $2 billion that Chambliss and Isakson tried to get for Lockheed Martin would have paid for seven additional F-22s. The $2 billion in the "cash for clunkers" program that they voted against could result in the sale of about 500,000 vehicles nationwide, with thousands of those autos sold by Georgia dealers.

It says a lot about the priorities of our senators that they consider it more important to use taxpayer money for overpriced, unneeded aircraft than to help out our auto dealers and car buyers, or our troops fighting a dangerous way in Afghanistan.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report at that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays.