House passes $636B defense bill

The House on Thursday bucked President Barack Obama’s veto threats and overwhelmingly approved a $636 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal 2010.

The bill, passed on a 400-30 vote, does meet Obama’s demand to cap the F-22 fighter jet program, something he personally lobbied for. But the measure still contains funding for two programs that have drawn veto threats from the administration.

In particular, the White House this week threatened to veto the bill over $560 million for an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as well as $485 million for new helicopters to fly the president on short trips from the White House. The Obama administration did not request funding for either program.

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Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled the new presidential helicopter program earlier this year amid much fanfare about the cost of the program, a sign of how serious they were about reining in defense spending. Obama also singled out the alternate Joint Striker Fighter engine earlier this year as wasteful spending.

Obama had promised in a personal letter to lawmakers to veto any defense bill that contained funding to continue the production of the F-22, insisting it be capped at 187 aircraft.

Defense appropriators initially included $369 million for parts to build 12 more of the radar-evading jets after 2010 - the same amount in the 2010 defense authorization bill already approved by the House.

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Facing Obama’s veto threat, the Senate backed down and removed money for seven additional F-22 planes. House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) called a truce on Thursday, offering a manager’s amendment that was adopted and now allots some of the $369 million for spare parts and engines for existing F-22s, with the rest to go to other defense programs. The money is no longer a down payment of sorts on any additional jets.

The Pentagon spending bill is the last of the 12 appropriations bills for the House to approve. The last time the House passed all 12 spending bills was in 2007. Last year, the appropriations bills stalled because Democratic House leaders and President George W. Bush couldn’t agree on discretionary spending levels. The impasse prompted Democrats to delay consideration of most appropriations bills until Obama was sworn in to office.

Both House and Senate appropriators are aiming to get the appropriations bills for next year to the president and signed into law by the start of the fiscal year, Oct. 1. That hasn’t happened since 1994. But Congress will be hard-pressed to break that trend this year, as the Senate has passed only three of the dozen spending measures so far and has a legislative agenda likely to be dominated by healthcare reform until October.

Walter Alarkon contributed to this article.

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