Subject of veto threat, F-22 faces 2 key votes

Whether President Obama and Congress are on a collision course regarding the F-22 may become clearer this week after two key votes in the House and Senate.

The House Appropriations Committee Defense subcommittee has already bucked the administration, adding $369 million for parts for 12 more F-22s in the defense spending bill.

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to stop the Air Force from buying more F-22s, which cost $143 million each. In a speech last week in Chicago, Gates said money that would go to the F-22 is better directed toward other programs that have more applicability to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and on the F-35, another new fighter program.

The full House Appropriations panel will review the subpanel’s request on Wednesday. A congressional Democratic aide said he expected the extra F-22 money to survive the markup by the spending committee, despite the president’s opposition.

More flak, however, could come when the defense spending bill comes up for a floor vote, where it will face opposition from prominent liberal Democrats like House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who has said he “vigorously” opposes adding money for the F-22.

The Senate, meanwhile, will take up an amendment to strike $1.75 billion for seven additional F-22s from the 2010 defense authorization bill that the Senate Armed Services Committee approved. Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman and ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, introduced the amendment, but a vote on it was delayed by a debate over a hate-crimes bill last week. Senators were expected to vote on the amendment as early as Tuesday morning, according to the latest information available as of The Hill’s press time.

With a supply chain scattered throughout the United States, the F-22 has a broad constituency of congressional support that has won the fight in the past when the Bush administration tried to stop production.

With the economy still struggling, the argument in support of the F-22 seems at times as much about jobs as it is about national security.

Several unions, including the Steelworkers Union and the Machinists Union, have lobbied in favor of more F-22s, raising the stakes for Democrats.

By stripping money for F-22s from the defense bill on the Senate floor, Levin and McCain would make it much harder for the plane’s supporters to win the day in the conference committee with the House.

Congressional lawmakers and lobbyists will also continue digging into several high-profile pieces of President Obama’s plan to overhaul the financial system, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke prepares to testify on Capitol Hill.

Bernanke will testify before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday and in front of the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday. Though the hearings are ostensibly about monetary policy, lawmakers may also question Bernanke about the Fed’s role in a deal between Bank of America and Merrill Lynch at the height of the financial crisis.

At root is a debate over whether federal officials applied inappropriate pressure on Bank of America to complete its acquisition of Merrill.

The administration’s plan to revamp the financial system by setting up a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) is sure to come up too, with several Fed officials having pushed back on some of its centerpieces. The new agency would gain the consumer-protection responsibilities of the existing banking regulators, including the Fed.

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As lawmakers look into the CFPA proposal, lobbying efforts are revving up both to support and oppose the idea. A group of business associations was meeting last week about how to fight the proposal, which Frank wants to pass through committee by the August recess.

In a draft letter obtained by The Hill, the groups, organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urge Frank and other House lawmakers to slow down the debate because many of the specifics of the agency and its powers remain unexamined.

Americans for Financial Reform, a group of labor unions and consumer watchdog groups, has been making the case in support of the agency and has a budget of $5 million.

The Senate Banking Committee on Thursday will also begin debating how best to regulate systemic risk, with Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairwoman Sheila Bair testifying alongside Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Schapiro.



Roxana Tiron contributed to this story.