Lawmaker drops support for more F-22s

House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., on Wednesday announced he is abandoning efforts to keep production lines for the Air Force's F-22 Raptor fighter jet open after the existing order for 187 aircraft is met.

The fierce defender of congressional prerogatives to reorder administration spending priorities dropped this bombshell as the House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote its version of the fiscal 2010 Defense spending bill.

The bill includes a $369 million down payment for 12 F-22s in fiscal 2011 that had not been requested by the Pentagon. But Murtha said he would offer an amendment when the House debates the bill next week to strip the funding for the additional F-22s.

Under his amendment, the money would be used instead for parts, such as engines, for the 187 F-22s planned and perhaps for parts for other aircraft, including C-17s.

Murtha has supported buying more F-22s, but he said the Senate's 58-40 vote Tuesday to strip F-22 funding from the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill -- coupled with President Obama's threat to veto any bill that contains funding for more of the Lockheed Martin-produced fighters -- made him change his mind.

"When the Senate said, 58 to 40, then I think that ended the debate," he said after the committee markup. "You can talk about it, but it's not going to happen."

Although the House still must vote on Murtha's amendment, his decision marks another victory for the Obama administration, which expended an enormous amount of political capital to rid the Senate's defense authorization bill of $1.75 billion to buy seven F-22s next year.

Murtha said he could not work out details of the amendment before Wednesday's markup, but added he would like to include his F-22 language as part of a managers' package of amendments during floor debate, which he expects to occur July 30.

Any move to strip the funding for more F-22s from the bill has the support of House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., who said on Wednesday he does not want the bill to include veto bait by allocating money for more of the radar-evading fighters.

"They [the Obama administration] made quite clear to me that they intend to veto any bill that contains funding for the F-22," Obey said. "I think it would be unfortunate that we wind up in a situation where the bill cannot move forward."

Murtha said he now wants to ensure that spare parts for the F-22 fleet are "robustly funded" because of maintenance problems with the planes.

Meanwhile, Murtha said he does not support the administration's plans to reprogram money within the fiscal 2010 budget to pay for an influx of 22,000 troops next year, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced this week.

Instead, he would prefer the funding for the additional troops -- which could top $1 billion in fiscal 2010 alone -- come in the form of a budget amendment.

"I told them I didn't want to see a reprogramming," he said. "That is unacceptable. You can't find that kind of money. If you do find that kind of money, then they sent up a bad budget."

Murtha reiterated his belief that a supplemental spending bill will be needed in fiscal 2010, explaining that the bill's $128 billion for ongoing military operations will not be enough.

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