Senate appropriators fund second F-35 engine, defying both Obama and Gates

Senate appropriators are planning to fund a secondary engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, defying multiple veto threats from President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

As part of a 2,000-page omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2011, Senate appropriators have included $450 million to continue the development of a second F-35 engine made by General Electric and Rolls Royce.

The Pentagon has not included any funds for the GE-Rolls Royce engine in its fiscal year 2011 budget request, and the Obama administration has fought all year against congressional efforts to fund the secondary engine.

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The primary engine, which the Pentagon backs, is made by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies.

The omnibus spending bill is a surefire way to keep funding the alternate engine. If Congress ends up only approving a stopgap measure to fund the government at 2010 budget levels, the Obama administration could use a bureaucratic chokehold to stop funding the development of the GE-Rolls Royce engine.

The alternate engine has strong support in the House and some stalwart supporters in the Senate, though Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has not included funding for the second engine as part of the traditional defense appropriations bill for the last couple of years.

His rationale was that it would be easier to get the defense bill through the Senate and then add funding in conference negotiations with the House where the projects enjoys strong support.

Now, with the omnibus bill funding the government agencies for 2011, the Senate is taking the lead in funding the project. The move will test Obama’s threat to veto any bills that contain funding for the second engine.

The Senate is expected to vote on the massive spending bill this week.

A spokesman for the Pentagon said Gates still opposed funding for the second engine.

"Secretary Gates continues to strongly oppose the extra engine. In fact, given the on-going fiscal pressures facing the nation, the case against it is more pressing and persuasive today than ever before," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. "As this legislation works its way through Congress, the Secretary urges lawmakers to reconsider spending another half-billion dollars on an engine the department neither needs nor wants."