American aersospace manufacturer Boeing beat out its French-based rival Airbus for a $35 billion contract to build refueling aircraft for the Air Force on Thursday after a decade-long lobbying battle on Capitol Hill. Like everything nearly everything in Washington, this fight pitted Democrats against Republicans, blue states against red states, and the fingerpointing in the aftermath is naturally nasty. But the surprising part? It was freedom-fry eating Republicans who are on Team France and are deriding Boeing as cahoots with the Obamas.
See, Boeing has its corporate headquarters in Chicago and proposed building the tankers in Washington state--bringing 50,000 jobs there. Airbus, which is a subsidiary of the European Aeronautica Defence and Space Company, said it would assemble the planes in Mobile, Alabama. That's why Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby--who in 2008 derided the financial bailout as something that "sounds like France"--said yesterday he was "disappointed but not surprised" by the "Chicago politics" that helped Boeing win the contract.
Among EADS lobbyists are former Republican leaders: ex-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and ex-House Appropriations chair Bob Livingston, National Journal's Marc Ambinder reports. On Boeing's payroll are prominent Democrats, including former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Tony Podesta, whose brother John helped run Obama's transition into the White House. But Boeing far outspent its competitor in lobbying and campaign donations, spending $17.5 million on lobbying in 2008, compared to EADS $4.52 million, $2.9 million on the midterm elections, compared to EADS paltry $300,000.
And the fight in Washington isn't over: Congress has to decide whether to ratify the contract, rescind it, or split it between the two.
But for long-time observers of the high-stakes Pentagon bidding process, this is no surprise. Will Collier recalls his (paraphrased) conversation with a "senior Air Force official" several years ago:
Here's what's gonna happen: Airbus is gonna win. Boeing's bid is way out of bed. They think it's a slam-dunk, and they got greedy, and what's worse, they were lucky they were even allowed to bid after Darleen Druyun [who tried to leverage the contract into a cushy job at Boeing]. So they're gonna lose . And then everybody will freak out because the prime isn't an American company, so there'll be a s**t-storm in Congress, and there'll be a challenge, and the contract will get tossed out. Then we'll start over, and go through all this again, and it'll be set up for Boeing this time, and they'll win.Team America!
And then it'll be six or seven years later, and we still won't have any tankers, and the ones we do finally buy will cost twice as much.