After Senate vote, F-22 loses House support

The Senate’s decisive vote this week to cut off the F-22 program is resonating in the House, where leading appropriators on Wednesday said they would back away from an effort to continue production of the radar-evading fighter.

“When the Senate said 58 to 40, I think that ended the debate,” said Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee. “We have to be realistic about this.”

The vote on whether to extend money to the F-22 emerged as a crucial test for President Obama, who personally vowed to veto any defense bill that contained money to extend the fighter program. The Obama administration wants to cap the fleet at 187 planes.

Murtha last week included $369 million in the 2010 defense appropriations bill for advance parts for 12 more F-22s after 2010.

Now Murtha said he will seek to use the $369 million for spare parts and engines for existing F-22s and not as a down payment of sorts on any additional jets.

Murtha’s efforts to scuttle additional buys of F-22s also has the backing of Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the chairman of the full Appropriations Committee. Obey said Tuesday during the full committee markup of the Pentagon spending bill that the president “made it quite clear” that he would veto the bill.

The House is expected to take up the spending bill next Thursday. Murtha said he would offer a manager’s amendment to the bill to adjust the F-22 funding.

“I will make sure that because of the maintenance problems [of the F-22] that it is funded robustly — in other words, that they have spare parts, engines … engines in particular,” Murtha said.

“I like the F-22,” Murtha added. “I think there is a high risk by not having the F-22 down the road.”

While Murtha is backing down on the F-22 issue, he remains at odds with the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates over funding for a presidential helicopter program the administration has canceled.

But Murtha said on Wednesday that he did not believe his decision to add money for the helicopter in the defense-spending measure would draw a veto threat.

Lockheed Martin and the Italian-British venture AgustaWestland were building the new presidential helicopter, the VH-71. But the White House and Gates canceled the program due to cost overruns.

The helicopter program’s price tag rose from an estimated $6.5 billion to $13 billion, in part due to additional technological requirements added by the Marine One Squadron, which flies the presidential helicopters.

Defense appropriators allocated $485 million to make five VH-71 helicopters that have already been delivered operational. Lockheed Martin last week announced that it would lay off 600 employees as a result of the cancellation of the helicopter program.

House appropriators on Wednesday also went ahead with funding for a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The administration has threatened to veto the defense-spending bill if it finds that funding the second engine would severely impede the F-35 program overall.

Appropriators allotted $560 million for the General Electric-Rolls-Royce engine, which is in direct competition with the primary engine built by Pratt & Whitney. They also slashed $532 million from the JSF procurement accounts — money that would purchase 28 airplanes — but boosted the development money by $430 million.

Meanwhile, Murtha also appears at odds with Gates over how the Pentagon will fund 22,000 new recruits in the Army over the next three years. Gates on Monday announced the temporary increase, which is intended to cope with the strain from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The increase would raise the total number of soldiers to 569,000 through fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1, 2011. Gates indicated that he would seek congressional approval to tap into the existing budget to pay for part of the new recruitment.

Shifting money that has already been appropriated between accounts is known as reprogramming. Murtha said he opposes using reprogramming to pay for the new troops. He wants Gates to request new money to increase Army forces.