Appropriators add funds for second F-35 engine

By Megan Scully

July 27, 2010

The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday voted 11-5 to add $485 million to the fiscal 2011 Defense spending bill for a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, overriding objections to the program from Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., and President Obama.

The White House has threatened to veto any defense bill that includes funding for the engine, which Pentagon officials believe is unnecessary and amounts to wasteful spending.

"I talked to [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates twice about this and he has told me they will veto this bill, without any question," Dicks told reporters after the closed-door markup. "I felt that we should not put it in because of that."

House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Jerry Lewis, D-Calif., introduced the amendment to add the funding for the engine.

General Elecrtric Co. and Rolls Royce Group build the second engine and have launched an aggressive advertising and lobbying campaign to keep alive the engine program, which supporters argue will drive down costs through competition while providing a back-up engine for the multiservice fighter.

Pratt & Whitney builds the primary engine for the stealthy F-35.

The spending bill, which the subcommittee approved during the hour-long closed-door markup, totals $681.8 billion, including $157 billion to cover operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year.

Meanwhile, the subcommittee cut one of the 43 F-35s requested by the Pentagon for fiscal 2011.

"We considered that [fighter] was unnecessary," Dicks said. "We felt that 42 was a good number."

As expected, the subcommittee's version of the annual spending bill does not include funding for Boeing Co.-built C-17 cargo jets, a favorite of lawmakers -- especially appropriators -- for years.

Defense Secretary Gates wants to end the C-17 program with the 223 planes now on order. And he has said repeatedly that he would recommend that the president veto any legislation that keeps that procurement program alive.

"I felt I didn't want to get my first bill vetoed, so I took them at their word on both the alternate engine and the C-17," said Dicks, who succeeded the late Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., as subcommittee chairman earlier this year.

By Megan Scully

July 27, 2010