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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sometimes It Is Good To Be Wrong!

It ain't over yet, but here is the deal so far.

House Votes to Cancel F-35 Jet Engine Program

WASHINGTON — In a sign that some freshman Republicans are willing to cut military spending, the House voted 233-198 on Wednesday to cancel an alternate fighter jet engine that the Bush and Obama administrations had tried to kill for the last five years.

The vote was another instance in which some of the new legislators, including members of the Tea Party, broke ranks with the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, where the engine provided more than 1,000 jobs.

Many of the 87 freshman Republicans in the House had initially been hesitant to trim military spending as part of their drive to reduce the budget deficit.

But after forcing Mr. Boehner and other Republican leaders to propose greater cuts in domestic programs, the freshmen agreed last week to include $16 billion in military cuts in this year’s spending bill.

Wednesday’s vote to cancel the alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would cut an additional $450 million and save up to $3 billion over the next several years.

The vote was a victory for President Obama and the defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, who had called the engine wasteful at a time when the Pentagon budget was flattening out. Yet it could also signal trouble for Mr. Gates, who has complained that the Pentagon could face a short-term crisis if the Republicans go ahead with $16 billion in additional military cuts this year.

In voting to cancel the engine, some of the Republican freshmen formed an unusual alliance with liberal Democrats, who have opposed many of the Republican proposals for cuts in domestic programs.

The Joint Strike Fighter is the military’s most expensive program, and its engines could cost up to $100 billion if the Pentagon and allied nations buy several thousand of the planes.

Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies, is already building an F-35 engine in Connecticut. But Congress had long insisted on the development of a second engine to provide competition and try to reduce the price on purchases that could eventually reach $100 billion.

The alternate engine was being built by General Electric and Rolls-Royce, which had spent $3 billion on it so far and would have needed perhaps $2 billion to $3 billion more to complete it.

G.E. said it would take the fight to save the alternate engine to the Senate, which has not been as supportive as the House.

Top Democratic senators, like Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, have generally backed the engine, while John McCain of Arizona and other Republicans have repeatedly sought to block it.

Mr. Obama described the engine as a symbol of waste at the Pentagon shortly after he took office in 2009. But while he and Mr. Gates have won Congressional support to cancel or trim more than two dozen other military programs, a bipartisan group of House veterans had dug in to support the second engine.

Some liberals recently sought to portray the alternate engine as an expensive example of earmarked spending by Mr. Boehner, the new House speaker, whose home state of Ohio would benefit from jobs.

But with the Democrats in control, the House had voted 231 to 193 last May to keep the project alive, even though President Obama had threatened a veto. In that vote, 116 Republicans and 115 Democrats stuck with the engine.

In Wednesday’s vote, 123 Democrats and 110 Republicans voted to kill the engine.

The fight over the project had long broken down over regional rather than party lines, based on where the manufacturing and supply jobs would be.

Like many military contractors. G.E. and Rolls-Royce were spreading the work to more than 15 states, promising more than 4,000 jobs, including 400 each in Indiana and Massachusetts. But Pratt & Whitney had said the second engine would simply shift many of the jobs from its operations in Connecticut, Florida and Texas.

And companies’ executives said this week that the lobbying had been intense, with both sides fighting for support from the freshman legislators, many of whom knew little or nothing about the engine fight until now.

Relatively few of the freshmen announced their views publicly or spoke up during the floor debate on the issue Tuesday, adding to the suspense about which way the vote would go.

But the second engine also had won support over the years from veteran lawmakers who recalled “The Great Engine War” that developed in the 1980s after problems surfaced with an engine that Pratt & Whitney had built for the F-16 fighter jet.

The Air Force asked G.E. to create an alternate engine for that plane. A study by the Government Accountability Office later suggested that the competition had led to better engines and saved 20 percent over time, and G.E.’s supporters had contended that an alternate engine for the F-35 could produce similar results.

The F-35 is the Pentagon’s largest program and could end up costing nearly $400 billion over all. Congress had been financing the second engine for years partly to keep Pratt & Whitney from enjoying a lucrative monopoly and as insurance against any defects that might ground the fleet.

But in recent years, Donald H. Rumsfeld, President Bush’s first defense secretary, and Mr. Gates, who has served in both the Bush and Obama administrations, had questioned whether the second engine would produce enough savings in the long run and argued that the Pentagon needed the money for other projects.

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