Responding to Coburn, Trent Lott of Mississippi got emotional defending corporate welfare: "This is personal with me. I admit it. This is my hometown (Pascagoula). ... My dad was a pipefitter in that shipyard and was in the pipe department when he was killed in an automobile accident. I don't just see statistics and numbers. I see neighbors, classmates, men and women who believe in what they do and build a quality product. They have been hit a grievous blow."
Efforts such as Coburn's over the years have been slapped down hard, but not this time. The Coburn amendment barely lost, 51 to 48, in a rare Senate vote crossing party lines. Republicans split 28 to 27 against Mississippi's powerful senators, with John McCain and Majority Leader Bill Frist supporting Coburn. Democrats voted 24 to 20 for Northrop Grumman. North Dakota's twin deficit hawks, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, voted with Coburn, but Edward M. Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Democratic Leader Harry Reid supported corporate welfare.
The House Appropriations Committee not only rejected the Northrop Grumman payment, but asserted that federal money should not "substitute for private insurance benefits." That means the company's lobbying team, which cost $6.1 million last year, pushed hard last week. Philip A. Teel, the Northrop official running the shipyards, in a press conference last week warned that Gulf Coast shipbuilding would be radically reduced if corporate welfare were shut off.
That outrageous threat responded to a climate change in Washington. President Bush has declared he will veto the emergency money bill unless the $109 billion Senate measure is reduced by $14 billion. In making that cut, does Congress really want to keep half a billion dollars for Northrop Grumman at the cost of funds needed by U.S. troops and Katrina relief? If Congress can resist Northrop Grumman's blandishments and threats, it may soon take a small step toward confronting the massive problem of corporate welfare.