Senators urge firm line on axing F-35 engine

A bipartisan coalition of 19 senators is keeping the heat on appropriators to withhold funding for the F-35’s second engine. 

In a letter obtained by The Hill to Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Thad CochranThad CochranOvernight Finance: GOP offers measure to repeal arbitration rule | Feds fine Exxon M for Russian sanctions violations | Senate panel sticks with 2017 funding levels for budget | Trump tax nominee advances | Trump unveils first reg agenda Senate committee ignores Trump, House budgets in favor of 2017 funding levels Overnight Finance: CBO finds 22M more uninsured under Senate health bill | GOP agrees ObamaCare taxes must go | Supreme Court to look at Dodd-Frank whistleblower protections | More tax reform hearings | Green light for partial travel ban | MORE (R-Miss.), the Appropriations Committee’s chairman and ranking member, the senators said they agree with Pentagon officials who say the second engine is too costly and unnecessary.

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The senators urged Inouye and Cochran to stick with their decision to not fund the engine in a 2011 continuing resolution by doing the same in a defense spending bill for 2012. 

They applauded Inouye and Cochran for not funding the program in the Senate’s 2011 CR, calling that move “the first step toward terminating the alternate engine program.”

The letter was signed by 11 Democrats, seven Republicans and one Independent. The group includes Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCainJohn McCainSenate rejects repeal-only ObamaCare plan White House on the defensive over Trump’s transgender military ban Healthcare profiles in courage and cowardice MORE (R-Ariz.), as well as Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.), Jack ReedJack ReedCollins apologizes for calling GOP rep 'so unattractive' on hot mic Overnight Finance: House votes to repeal arbitration rule | Yellen, Cohn on Trump's list for Fed chief | House passes Russia sanctions deal | GOP centrists push back on border wall funding Senate panel rejects Trump’s effort to slash transportation funding MORE (D-R.I.), John CornynJohn CornynSenators to release bipartisan legislation on email privacy Senate rejects repeal-only ObamaCare plan Dem says ObamaCare repeal effort moves US ‘toward single-payer’ MORE (R-Texas), Bill NelsonBill NelsonGore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere Honda recalls 1.2 million cars over battery fires Vulnerable senators raise big money ahead of 2018 MORE (D-Fla.), James InhofeJames InhofeMcCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty GOP signals infrastructure bill must wait Lobbying World MORE (R-Okla.) and Ron WydenRon WydenOvernight Finance: House votes to repeal arbitration rule | Yellen, Cohn on Trump's list for Fed chief | House passes Russia sanctions deal | GOP centrists push back on border wall funding Senators urge quotas on Canadian lumber, consultations with Congress Pressure on Trump grows as Kushner is questioned MORE (D-Ore.)

The group included a statement made recently by Defense Secretary Robert Gates before the Senate Armed Services Committee, when he dubbed the alternate power plant, being built be GE and Rolls-Royce, “an unnecessary and extravagant expense, particularly during this period of fiscal contradiction.”

They also reminded the appropriations panel leaders that in July 2009, the full Senate “unanimously adopted an amendment to terminate the alternate engine after a vote of 59 to 38 rejecting a proposal to continue funding.” 

If a similar vote happens this year, the senators predict “an even greater majority will join the president, secretary of defense and our military leadership in opposition of this wasteful program.”

Alternate engine proponents say it will save money in the long run, while also providing an operational safety net should the F-35’s primary power plant, being developed by Pratt & Whitney, suffer a problem that grounds the entire U.S. fleet. Three military services plan to buy more than 2,500 F-35s. 

The House last month voted to strip funding for the second engine from its version of a government-wide 2011 CR.

Because work on the alternate engine is done in Ohio, home of GOP House Speaker Rep. John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner on Trump tweets: He gets 'into a pissing match with a skunk' every day Boehner predicts GOP will 'never' repeal, replace ObamaCare Sudan sanctions spur intense lobbying MORE, the program has become a hot-button issue. The House vote was viewed as a political setback for BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner on Trump tweets: He gets 'into a pissing match with a skunk' every day Boehner predicts GOP will 'never' repeal, replace ObamaCare Sudan sanctions spur intense lobbying MORE.

The Pentagon estimates that ending the development of the second engine will save $3 billion.

Pentagon officials — and two administrations — have for several years tried ending the alternate engine, but Congress has consistently kept it alive.

Gates has said it costs "$28 million a month" and completing it would "waste $3 billion." The nation's fiscal situation makes that unaffordable, DoD brass says.