Boeing ally not expected to seek funds for more C-17s
House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., is preparing a fiscal 2011 Defense spending bill that defense sources expect will not include funding to buy more Boeing C-17 cargo planes or to keep alive an alternate engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
By rejecting funding for those two high-profile programs, Dicks would avert veto threats from the White House, which considers any spending to keep alive the F-35 second engine and the C-17 programs as wasteful. The panel plans to meet Tuesday to consider the measure.
A spokesman for Dicks would not comment on the details of the chairman's mark, saying it would not be final until next week.
But if Dicks moves forward as expected, his decision not to include funding for more C-17s would run counter to the chairman's reputation as one of Boeing's biggest supporters on Capitol Hill.
The aerospace giant, which builds commercial aircraft at a plant just outside Dicks' district, has lobbied to include five C-17s in fiscal 2011 to supplement international orders and keep the production lines running at optimum speed, several defense sources recently told CongressDaily.
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to end the C-17 program with the 223 planes now on order. And he has said repeatedly that he would recommend President Obama veto any legislation that keeps the procurement program alive.
Dicks, who is drafting his first Defense spending bill since succeeding the late Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., as subcommittee chairman, is "obviously concerned about the perception of being the congressman from Boeing," said one defense source tracking the issue. "It is hard to tell the engine guys 'no' and then add C-17s."
Neither version of the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill passed by the House or the Senate Armed Services Committee includes funding for the cargo planes. But appropriators have long favored the C-17, adding 43 unrequested planes to spending bills over the last several years.
On the F-35 engine issue, Dicks could face stiff opposition within his subcommittee over his stance on the aircraft's alternate engine, built by General Electric Co. and Rolls-Royce Group. Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney builds the primary engine for the fighter jets.
The subcommittee's backers of the alternate engine could challenge Dicks with an amendment during next week's markup that would add funding for the program Gates wants to terminate, sources said.
"I suspect there will be a discussion on that issue," Defense Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Rep. C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., said Tuesday.
The alternate engine would create about 4,000 jobs in several states, including about 150 at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis and roughly 1,000 at General Electric's plant outside of Cincinnati. Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, whose district is near GE's Ohio plant, has pushed to keep the engine program alive even though many budget hawks and groups such as Citizens Against Government Waste have criticized it as "high-flying waste."
In May, Dicks voted for an amendment to the fiscal 2011 defense authorization measure that would have stripped $485 million in the bill for the second engine. That amendment failed 231-193 despite a White House threat to veto any bill authorizing funding for the GE/Rolls Royce engine.
Next week's subcommittee markup could see the same result if an amendment is introduced to add funding for the alternate engine. The panel is stacked with members whose states could be adversely affected by ending the program and some Republican members may opt to back Boehner's effort to save the engine.
Supporters of the second engine argue that competition against the F-35's primary engine would drive down costs on the $100 billion alternate engine program and provide a back-up for the multiservice fighter.
Gates has fiercely argued for years that the $2.9 billion investment needed for the second engine over the next six years is not worth the potential benefit of manufacturing two different engines for the single-engine F-35.
"Every dollar additional to the budget that we have to put into the F-35 is a dollar taken from something else that the troops may need," Gates said last year.