Defense-related spending bill amendments progress

Obama has threatened to veto the House measure to fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2011, noting GOP proposal would cut Pentagon funding too sharply.

The House moved forward on Tuesday on a handful of amendments to the defense portion of legislation on the House floor that would fund the remainder of the fiscal year and cut about $60 billion from current levels, as President Obama threatened to veto the measure.

It appeared late Tuesday that a vote on whether to strike $450 million in the bill for the controversial alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will occur Wednesday.

The Pentagon and the White House have argued that the engine, which is produced by General Electric and Rolls Royce, is unnecessary and too costly. Supporters said that canceling the effort would give primary engine maker Pratt & Whitney a lock on the $100 billion market.

Delaying debate on the engine gives the companies extra time to make their case-particularly to budget-conscious House freshmen, who both sides view as crucial to the debate. In May, the House rejected an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would have canceled the engine.

By all accounts, the vote should be much closer than the 38-vote margin on the issue in May. General Electric's lobbying efforts and high-profile supporters have kept the engine alive, despite strong opposition from two presidents, and they may benefit more from the delay.

Even if GE prevails again, Defense Secretary Robert Gates may have the last word. On Monday, he said he will "look out [for] all available legal options" to shut down the program.

Also in the offing Wednesday or Thursday is an amendment from Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and a group of other conservatives to cut as much as $20 billion by reducing Congress's budget by 11 percent and cutting other nonsecurity spending by an additional 5.5 percent, with the exemption for aid to Israel.

While the rule for consideration of the House GOP continuing resolution allowed for five minutes of debate on each of the hundreds of amendments that have been filed, Republicans claimed Democrats are abusing a mechanism that allows members to get five additional minutes of debate.

The House spent about two hours on the first amendment, offered by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., which would cut $18.75 million from the DOD budget to reduce the number of boards and commissions impaneled by the Pentagon.

The amendment was opposed by House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., and ranking member Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., over concerns that it was not clear what the effect of the proposal would be. They also didn't want to tamper with the compromises they had worked out. The amendment failed 223-207.

The House also defeated an amendment, 358-72, from Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., to reduce spending by $502 million spread among certain Defense Department procurement and research program accounts.

An amendment from Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., to cut $415 million from Navy and Air Force procurement accounts for the V-22 also failed, 326-105.

Another Pompeo amendment to cut $115 million from the DOD budget for alternative energy programs was also defeated 320-109.

Votes on amendments came as Obama criticized the House GOP proposal and said he would veto the measure.

"If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the president will veto the bill," the White House said in a statement of administration policy, adding, that the bill would reduce Pentagon funding "to a level that would leave the department without the resources and flexibility needed to meet vital military requirements."