The Democratic-controlled House went along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates' plans to kill the over-budget F-22 fighter jet, but has rejected his efforts to cut off several other big ticket items.
Despite objections and veto threats from the White House, a $636 billion Pentagon spending bill passed by a 400-30 vote Thursday contains money for a much-criticized new presidential helicopter fleet, cargo jets that Gates says aren't needed, and an alternative engine for the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that the Pentagon says is a waste of money.
It also contains $128 billion for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would bring the total appropriated by Congress for those wars and other efforts to combat terrorism above $1 trillion. The bill rejects Obama's $100 million request for the Pentagon to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.
It's the last of the 12 annual spending bills to come to the House floor as Democrats meet their goal of passing all 12 bills before the August recess.
Even though the House is packed with Obama loyalists, the draw of defense industry jobs for weapons systems is strong even among the most liberal members. Typically, contractors and subcontractors are spread across the country to maximize support.
The items Gates seeks to kill mean jobs in such states as Georgia, Texas, California, Connecticut, New York, Indiana, and Ohio.
The measure also contains money for nine unrequested F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, assembled in St. Louis.
Gates appears to feel most strongly about the F-22, an ultramodern fighter aimed at maintaining U.S. dominance in air-to-air combat. But it is poorly suited for 21st century warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates wants to cut off production after 187 planes.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the chief author of the defense spending measure, had originally sought $369 million for a start on 12 additional F-22s. But after a veto threat from Obama — and a decisive vote against the airplane in the Senate last week — Murtha beat a tactical retreat and instead directed $139 million toward spare engines for the F-22 and the C-17 cargo plane.
Murtha and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., however, are not backing away from their support for the troubled VH-71 presidential helicopter, which is six years behind schedule and $6 billion over budget. The White House threatened to veto the bill over $400 million in the bill to continue production of five of the aircraft, which would be built in Hinchey's upstate New York district.
Gates wants to scrap the program and start over.
Murtha says that taxpayers should get something out of their investment.
The alternate engine for the F-35 is in a trickier spot. There's strong political support for the engine, which would be built by the General Electric Co. and Rolls-Royce in Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere. The main F-35 engine is built in Connecticut by Pratt & Whitney.
The bill contains $560 million for the alternative engine. The White House issued a squishy veto threat, saying Obama would kill the bill if it would "seriously disrupt the F-35 program."
There's even more support for $674 million for three unrequested C-17 cargo jets, which would be assembled in Long Beach, Calif. Though Gates says the Air Force has plenty of the planes, the administration did not issue a veto threat over the additional aircraft.
And, by a 124-307 vote, lawmakers rejected a bid by Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., to kill $80 million for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, a ballistic missile defense system that's way over budget and has yet to experience a flight test. The Bush administration had soured on the program; the project is being undertaken in Huntsville, Ala., by the Northrop Grumman Corp.
The underlying defense measure also:
- Provides a 3.4 percent military pay hike, 0.5 percent above Obama's request, and provides a 14 percent increase for medical care for service members. It significantly increases funding to treat traumatic brain injury and mental health programs.
- Rejects Obama's $100 million request for the Pentagon to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba and extends a current ban on releasing Guantanamo detainees in the United States. It also requires an extensive risk analysis and a detailed justification for bringing detainees into the U.S. for trial or to serve their sentences.