Senate heeds Obama’s call, cutting F-22

The Senate on Tuesday handed President Obama a significant victory by voting to cut off production of the F-22 fighter jet.

While the battle over the radar-evading fighter is far from over, the Senate’s 58-40 vote to strip the funding for seven planes from the fiscal 2010 defense policy bill marks a defining moment for Obama. Using the power of the veto and intense lobbying, he convinced lawmakers to curb the fighter jet program despite bipartisan support to keep it growing.

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The victory is a bright spot for Obama during an otherwise difficult stretch. His approval ratings are dropping and he’s struggling to move along his agenda — most notably healthcare reform, his signature policy objective.

“It’s an important moment,” Sen. Carl LevinCarl LevinA lesson on abuse of power by Obama and his Senate allies President Trump, listen to candidate Trump and keep Volcker Rule Republicans can learn from John McCain’s heroism MORE (D-Mich.) told The Hill. “It shows that he [Obama] is effective in promoting his change agenda and it shows that he can work on a bipartisan basis.”

Levin co-sponsored the amendment with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump's dangerous Guantánamo fixation will fuel fire for terrorists Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Ad encourages GOP senator to vote 'no' on tax bill MORE (R-Ariz.), Obama’s opponent in the presidential election, to strike $1.75 billion for seven more F-22s.

Both Levin and McCain admitted the outcome was in question on Tuesday before the vote.

McCain said the wide voting margin was “directly attributable” to Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

McCain said Tuesday’s vote symbolizes a change “in the ways we do business in Washington.” He called it “one of the most significant votes” for national security.

“I’d like to give credit to President Obama for standing firm,” he said.

It is also a big win for Gates, who has made trimming the F-22 program the foundation of reshaping the nation’s defense priorities.

Obama, Gates and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel all made personal calls to senators up until the vote on Tuesday.

“At a time when we are fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this would have been an inexcusable waste of money,” Obama said in the Rose Garden on Tuesday.

Gates “understands that for many members this was a very difficult vote, but he believes that the Pentagon cannot continue with business as usual when it comes to the F-22 or any other program in excess to our needs,” Geoff Morrell, Gates’s spokesman, said in a statement.

Sen. Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ga.) won narrow approval during the Armed Services Committee markup for the provision adding the money for the seven planes, which Lockheed Martin builds in his state.

One key vote in support of more F-22s was missing on Tuesday. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is battling brain cancer and has made few appearances on Capitol Hill this year. Kennedy was able to vote by proxy in favor of more F-22s during the committee’s markup last month.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who was hospitalized with an infection last month, returned to the chamber for the first time in nearly two months in a wheelchair and voted against the amendment. Byrd, like Kennedy, voted through a proxy last month to keep producing the F-22.

Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryTrump's dangerous Guantánamo fixation will fuel fire for terrorists Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Overnight Tech: Senate Dems want FCC chief recused from Sinclair merger | Tech rallies on Capitol Hill for DACA | Facebook beefs up lobbying ranks MORE (D-Mass.) voted to strike the fighters after saying he would support buying more F-22s.

Overall, 42 Democrats and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDe Blasio headed to Iowa to speak at political fundraiser Yes, spills happen — but pipelines are still the safest way to move oil Why sexual harassment discussions include lawmakers talking about Bill Clinton’s past MORE (I-Vt.) voted for the amendment, as did 15 Republicans. The top three members of Democratic leadership — Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidVirginia was a wave election, but without real change, the tide will turn again Top Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor MORE (Nev.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinQuestions loom over Franken ethics probe GOP defends Trump judicial nominee with no trial experience Democrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  MORE (Ill.) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJuan Williams: The politics of impeachment Texas Republicans slam White House over disaster relief request Dem rep: Trump disaster aid request is 'how you let America down again' MORE (N.Y.) — backed stripping the funds.

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayGOP senator: ObamaCare fix could be in funding bill Collins: Pass bipartisan ObamaCare bills before mandate repeal Murkowski: ObamaCare fix not a precondition for tax vote MORE (Wash.), the Democratic Conference secretary, voted against the amendment. Boeing, a major subcontractor for the F-22, is based in Washington state. Twelve other Democrats voted no, including Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) — who represents a state where Pratt & Whitney, the engine producer for the F-22, is based — and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (Hawaii).

The Obama administration’s fight is far from over. Defense appropriators in the House decided to fund $369 million for the advance purchase of parts to build 12 more F-22s after 2010. The full House Appropriations Committee is slated to mark up the 2010 defense-spending bill on Wednesday.

The Senate defense authorizers will also have to head to conference negotiations with their House counterparts over the 2010 defense authorization bill. With the Senate not authorizing any funds for the F-22, it could be easier for conferees to strike the money the House authorizers approved. Levin said he hoped the House would be influenced by Obama’s veto threat and agree to a 2010 defense authorization bill without F-22 funds.

Senate defense appropriators have not scheduled their markup of the 2010 defense appropriations bill, but Inouye’s “no” vote could be a strong indication. Levin, however, said that he hoped the overwhelming vote could dissuade the defense appropriators from staging another fight with the administration. Both Levin and McCain vowed to fight any F-22 funding when the appropriations bill gets to the Senate floor.



Sam Youngman contributed to this story.