By Megan Scully
July 30, 2009
The House Thursday voted to end production of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, marking another decisive victory for the Obama administration as it tries to realign the military's spending priorities and rid the defense budget of programs it deems overpriced and unnecessary.
On a 269-165 vote, the House approved an amendment from House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., that stripped a $369 million down payment in the fiscal 2010 Defense spending bill for 12 more of the radar-evading fighters in fiscal 2011.
The vote preceded House passage of the Defense appropriations measure, a $636.3 billion bill that includes $128.2 billion for continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill passed 400-30.
Murtha has long supported buying more F-22s than the 187 already on order. But he reversed course abruptly last week after the Senate voted 58-40 to eliminate funding for more aircraft in the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill after an intense push by President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior administration officials to end the program.
Instead of buying more of the Lockheed Martin Corp. fighters, which have never been used in combat, Murtha's amendment redirects the funding to buy spare parts for the F-22s procured or on order, as well as parts for C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes.
"We're doing the best we can with what we have," Murtha said on the floor. "Politically, it's changed so dramatically that we just have no alternative."
The F-22, parts of which are manufactured in 44 states, once enjoyed widespread support from lawmakers who boasted that the planes generate $12 billion in economic activity annually in the United States.
But Gates has insisted 187 F-22s are adequate to meet current and future threats. And, in a strong endorsement of Gates' decision, Obama took the unusual step of personally threatening to veto any bill that contains funds for more planes.
During Thursday's consideration of the bill, lawmakers rejected, 307-124, an amendment from Reps. John Tierney, D-Mass., and Rush Holt, D-N.J., that would have eliminated $80 million in the bill for the troubled Kinetic Energy Interceptor program that the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency wants to end.
In addition, the House defeated several amendments from Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., aimed at striking earmarks in the bill, including add-ons that would benefit former clients of the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group, which is under federal investigation. The House rejected more than 550 amendments offered en bloc by Flake, all targeting earmarks.
Although stripped of the F-22 funding, the House spending bill still has veto bait, namely provisions on two other programs the administration has sought to end.
The bill includes $485 million to keep alive the VH-71 presidential helicopter program, which Obama says he doesn't want and whose costs have more than doubled over the last four years. It also contains $560 million to fund a second engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that the Defense Department has tried to cancel for several years only to be rebuffed repeatedly by Congress.
By Megan Scully
July 30, 2009