Defying Obama, House votes to keep F-35 second engine funds

The House on Thursday voted to keep funding a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, defying the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates has repeatedly threatened that he would personally recommend that President Barack Obama veto any defense bill containing funding for an engine made by General Electric-Rolls Royce that the Pentagon does not want. The Office of Management and Budget on Thursday followed up with its own veto threat in a statement of administration policy.

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Both GE-Rolls Royce and primary engine maker Pratt & Whitney mounted vigorous lobbying campaigns in recent weeks aligning congressional supporters on each side. But when the House cast a vote on an amendment to strike funding for the second engine, the supporters of a second engine prevailed by a vote of 231-193.

The House Armed Services Committee included $485 million for the development of the GE-Rolls Royce engine in its version of the 2011 defense authorization bill. More than a dozen lawmakers, including Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), John Larson (D-Conn.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) sponsored an amendment to strike the funding and allocate the money toward paying down the national debt.


The House Armed Services Committee and its Senate counterpart for years have believed that a secondary engine was necessary for the F-35 program. They’ve argued that a backup engine would be useful if there are problems with the primary engine, and that competition between two engine-makers could save money over the life of the program. The defense authorizers also believe that a competitive F-35 engine program would reap non-financial benefits such as increased reliability, improved contractor responsiveness and a more robust fighter engine industrial base.

The Senate last year successfully stripped funding for the engine from its defense authorization bill. This year, the Senate Armed Services Committee opted not to add funding for the second engine — effectively making the issue an item of negotiation between the House and the Senate for the final defense authorization bill sent to Obama. In what could be a telling vote for the appropriators in the House, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) on Thursday voted against the second engine. Dicks voted to strip the funding out of the defense authorization bill.