By John T. Bennett - 02/16/11 07:51 PM EST
The House on Wednesday voted to ax funding for a second F-35 engine, handing the Pentagon a major victory in the long fight to eliminate a costly program that Defense Secretary Robert Gates says is unnecessary.
In a 233-198 tally, the House approved an amendment to its 2011 continuing resolution to nix $450 million appropriators had included for the alternate engine. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) sponsored the amendment.
The Pentagon estimates that ending the development of the second engine will save $3 billion.
The passage of the amendment is a defeat for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who just this week expressed support for the second engine and said it would save the Pentagon money in the long run.
But Boehner said he would let "the House work its will” and decide whether to continue funding the project.
Pentagon officials — and two administrations — have for several years tried ending the alternate engine, being built by Rolls-Royce and General Electric.
Officials say it is too expensive and not needed because the primary power plant, being developed by Pratt & Whitney, will be sufficient.
During a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the second engine "unnecessary and extravagant."
The secretary said it costs "$28 million a month" and completing it would "waste $3 billion." The nation's fiscal situation makes that unaffordable, DoD brass say.
Gates's spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said in a statement Wednesday the defense secretary "welcomes today's vote and is gratified that the full House has recognized the merits of the Department's position in opposing the JSF extra engine."
"He understands this afternoon's vote is but one step, although a very important one, on the path to ensuring that we stop spending limited dollars on unwanted and unneeded defense programs," he added.
Despite the loss, Rolls and GE issued a statement almost immediately after the vote and vowed to fight on, noting the Senate has traditionally supported the project.
The office of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) sent out a blast e-mail noting 110 "rank-and-file" Republicans voted to kill the engine even though work on it would be done near Boehner's district.
The Democrats dubbed funding for the engine "the Boehner earmark."
The e-mail noted Boehner did not vote, as is customary, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) voted to keep the engine alive. And the project "also conveniently benefits his district," the e-mail said.
This post was updated at 4:17 p.m.