Former Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Washington) passed away almost 15 years ago, yet the wisdom of one of her witticisms endures.
When she would greet constituents from Washington’s 8th District who made the trip to the “other Washington,” she would invariably say, “Welcome to the District of Columbia… the nation’s only ‘work-free drug zone’!”
It isn’t that denizens of the Federal Capital District are lazy, it’s just that so many of them are hooked on a self-generated substance that gives them a false sense of authority. Long-distance runners get a high from endorphins; lobbyists, commentators and journalists get a similar rush from “informed speculation.”
No wonder the chatter in that echo chamber is referred to as “buzz.”
And, for the better part of a year, the buzz around Washington has concerned defense giant Lockheed Martin’s planned acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne in a $4.5 billion merger.
This isn’t your typical big-business power play, because it concerns the defense sector; the consequences of this proposed deal, with its higher costs and diminished innovation, will impact our national security.
And because it is happening in Washington, the battle for hearts, minds and federal dollars has taken on features of a political campaign.
The strategy of the pro-merger faction? Simple. Emphasize the “Lock” in Lockheed Martin, and imply the inevitability of the outcome.
In December, with Christmas fast approaching, one financial website became a “Not-So-Secret-Santa” for the pro-merger forces.
A Dec. 16 article was remarkable for its simplistic attribution. Rather than utilizing the term “unnamed sources,” the website settled on a simple “someone.” This “someone” who reportedly opposed the merger had apparently shared the belief that it would not be blocked by antitrust regulators.
The result? A rise of almost 5% in the value of Aerojet Rocketdyne stock.
Yes, Virginia… and K Street… and Wall Street, there is a Santa Claus!
He conveniently arrived a couple of weeks early in December of 2021, and instead of answering to the name “St. Nick,” he reportedly preferred the generic “someone.”
None of this has occurred in a vacuum. Despite press accounts predicting that the merger will come to pass, significant objections and procedural hurdles remain. And now in the New Year, some of the speculation spurred by the intoxication and illusion of inevitability has given way to an early 2022 hangover for pro-merger advocates.
The emerging hesitancy was foreshadowed in the “Dog Days” of last August, without the anonymity of “someone,” and anti-merger forces have given it prominent mention.
Correspondence between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and FTC Chief Lina Khan provided the rationale. In her letter, Sen. Warren suggested heightened scrutiny of the proposed merger; Khan responded that antitrust enforcers should take action to block such deals.
If Lockheed Martin were to acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne, it would create a duopoly in the missile defense business — Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman would own America’s only manufacturers of solid rocket motors. Taxpayers must already pay for $770 billion in defense spending; they cannot dole out more dollars for the rising costs this merger would inevitably bring.
For Americans befuddled by the lack of bipartisanship in recent years, the leadership of both parties and on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue now have a genuine opportunity to provide a rare moment of agreement.
Saying “no” to this merger would say “yes” to the American people. It would run counter to the polarization brought on by the pandemic and defy “conventional wisdom.”
But if this acquisition is approved, it would reaffirm the shopworn saying of the cynics:
“Washington is 12 square miles, surrounded by reality.”