House panel rejects cuts to F-35 fighter jets

House panel rejects cuts to F-35 fighter jets
© Department of Defense

The GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee killed a proposed Democratic amendment to its annual policy bill that would have shifted money away from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierWhite House to host lawmakers as negotiations over agenda hit critical stage Democrats want to bolster working women, but face tortuous choices Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter celebrate 75th anniversary, longest-married presidential couple MORE (D-Calif.) wanted to move roughly $589 million from an authorized $1 billion funding increase proposed by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).

The money, meant for six additional F-35 aircraft, would have gone into an equipment account for the National Guard and Reserves.

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The amendment, which would have been attached to the Tactical Air and Land Forces subpanel’s part of the national defense authorization act (NDAA), was defeated by voice vote.

Debate over the measure was marked by a contentious exchange between Speier and Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subpanel.

Speaking for her proposal, Speier noted recent reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and others voicing concerns with the fighter jet program and its development.

Turner, though, forcefully rejected Speier’s arguments against the F-35, saying she would see the progress the aircraft had made “if she had attended” hearings on the jet, a charge he repeated several times.

“Your misreading of the GAO report” is “probably where we have the disconnect,” he later added.

Speier thanked Turner for his “obnoxious comments.”

The exchange between the two lawmakers left many of their fellow panel member's visibly shaken.

The amendment's defeat came amid a lobbying effort by the aircraft’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin.

The defense giant delivered fliers to committee members that urged them to vote against the California Democrat’s amendment and touted the F-35’s recent testing and operational accomplishments.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R), whose state is home to Eglin Air Force Base, an F-35 hub, quoted several of the document’s talking points almost verbatim while speaking against Speier’s proposal.

“The bottom line is that this amendment is the wrong way to support the National Guard and Reserve and puts at risk one of the USAF’s [U.S. Air Force's] top three acquisition programs,” the Lockheed Martin flier stated. 

Thornberry brought debate to a close by reminding panel members that “it’s going to be a long day” and suggesting lawmakers “focus on the issues, not each other.”

The Tactical Air and Land Forces portion of the NDAA was approved by voice vote.