Sen. John McCain, in an unusual alliance with the Obama administration, moved Monday to eliminate $1.75 billion recently inserted into the proposed 2010 defense budget for more fighter jets from Lockheed Martin.
The administration has threatened to veto any defense spending bill that includes money for more F-22s. McCain, R-Ariz., supports that position and warned that he may not have enough support to get his amendment passed.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., joined McCain in filing the amendment to cut the extra money for seven more F-22's. The Senate Armed Services Committee last month narrowly approved the additional funding requested by Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss.
Levin, the committee's chairman, and McCain voted against the additional funds. Elsewhere, the House last month voted to include a $369 million down payment for 12 additional fighters to its version of the defense bill.
Levin said he will seek to hold a full Senate vote on the F-22 amendment by noon Tuesday toward the goal of completing the defense spending bill this week.
'We don't need these planes'
The White House reiterated its threat to veto legislation that includes money to continue production of the radar-evading jets beyond the current request of 187 planes.
"We do not need these planes," President Barack Obama wrote in a letter to McCain and Levin Monday. "To continue to procure additional F-22s would be to waste valuable resources that should be more usefully employed to provide our troops with weapons that they actually do need."
McCain, who last year lost his bid for the White House to Obama, said on the Senate floor Monday that he will strongly recommend the administration veto the defense bill if lawmakers don't act to end F-22 production.
Supporters of the F-22 have said capping production at 187 aircraft is too risky with potential adversaries like Iran, North Korea and China looming.
McCain disputed such arguments. Focusing on timely delivery of the Joint Strike Fighter, also built by Lockheed Martin, is in the best interest of the country and will be a weapon system that can meet future threats, he said.
In a separate letter to Senate leaders Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Joint Strike Fighter is "more capable in a number of areas such as electronic warfare and combating enemy air defenses."
Parts of plane made in Texas, California
Chambliss and other lawmakers who represent districts where F-22 production jobs are at stake have lobbied hard to keep the program. Lockheed's primary manufacturing plant is in Georgia, but key parts of the plane also are made in Texas and California.
Labor groups, including the United Steelworkers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, recently sent letters to lawmakers urging continued support for the F-22. They cited the 25,000 high wage, high-skill manufacturing jobs that could be lost across 44 states.
McCain said the rationale for keeping a weapon system should never be about job creation, but about defending the nation.
The extra money would extend production of the F-22 beyond the 187 aircraft that Gates says are needed. Gates has argued that buying any more of the jets, which cost $140 million a piece, will undermine the Pentagon's ability to increase the size of U.S. ground forces and purchase gear for fighting unconventional wars against insurgents.