Fights over the F-22 engulf Senate, House

The Senate is kicking off next week with one of the most contentious issues engulfing the fiscal 2010 defense policy bill: whether to include money for more F-22 fighter jets and ultimately draw a presidential veto.
 
The Senate may proceed to an amendment sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) as early as Monday but more likely on Tuesday that would strike $1.75 billion for seven additional F-22s from the bill.
 
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The vote on the amendment is expected to be extremely close, according to several congressional sources, and could very well be a cliffhanger for the Democratic leadership which faces a splintered majority on the issue of whether to fund more F-22s, which are built by Lockheed Martin.
 
The debate on the F-22 amendment was temporarily suspended to allow the Senate to take up hate-crimes legislation that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wanted to see attached to the bill. Even though senators had a reprieve from the debate over the F-22, the backstage push and pull did not stop.
 
Several unions, such as the Steelworkers Union and the Machinists Union, have been up on Capitol Hill lobbying in favor of more F-22s. But the weekend could also serve as a ripe time for the Obama administration to cajole undecided Democratic senators into supporting the Levin-McCain amendment that would strip the funding. The battle is becoming intensely personal not just for Obama, who in a rare letter vowed to veto the defense bill, but also for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is standing firm in his position not to buy more than 187 F-22s.
 
The best way to avoid a presidential veto is for the Senate to strike the $1.75 billion from the bill. The House version of the 2010 defense authorization bill already contains $369 million for the advance procurement of parts and items to build 12 more F-22s after 2010.
 
If senators bring their bill without any additional funds to the table it would be easier to strike the House funds as part of conference negotiations. However, it’s not unprecedented for the committee chairmen to agree to fully strike funds from the conference report if it faces a veto. The risk then becomes that some conferees (particularly those who have a stake in the F-22) won’t sign the conference report. Without a majority of signatures, the conference report can’t get a final vote and be sent to the president.
 
Meanwhile, the drama over the F-22 is likely to continue as House appropriators meet Wednesday to agree on the 2010 defense appropriations bill. The plot could thicken with regards to the 2010 spending bill: defense appropriators in their initial markup last week already defied several high-profile cuts suggested by Obama and Gates, including the F-22, the new presidential helicopter, a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the C-17 cargo plane program.