Amid a heated debate about federal deficits, national security and domestic employment, the U.S. House of Representatives voted against continuing the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter midday Feb. 16.
The move is a reversal of sorts—a similar vote in mid-2010 indicated broad support among lawmakers for the F136. But with newly empowered tea party lawmakers and other budget hawks having made the House more fiscally conservative since then, the 233-199 vote showed newfound resistance for a congressional prerogative opposed by the White House and Pentagon leadership.
“While we are disappointed at the outcome, the debate to preserve competition will continue,” GE says in a statement issued shortly after the voice vote. “GE is deeply grateful to many House members, including leaders of the House Appropriations Committee and Armed Services Committee, who voted to continue funding the competing JSF engine. These members demonstrated strong support for the core principle of acquisition reform—competition.”
Earlier this week Defense Secretary Robert Gates loudly lobbied lawmakers to help end the F136 (Aerospace DAILY, Feb. 15). He warned that if Congress did not do so, he would use other legal opportunities to kill it himself. The program has limped along since funding started to run out last December, and the fact that the federal government has been sustained through continuing resolutions (CR) of 2010 funding appropriations opened doubt as to whether Congress’s earlier mandate still had authority.
The vote was on an amendment by Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) and others to a new CR bill. The House started debating the amendment to strike $450 million for the F136 in fiscal 2011, as well as several other amendments to curb defense spending, late Feb. 15. The majority of other amendments have not been adopted at this time.
“After years of throwing good money after bad to fund the wasteful extra engine, the House has finally voted to end this unnecessary program,” Rooney said after the vote. “The Pentagon has said repeatedly that they do not want it and do not need it, and the American taxpayers certainly cannot afford it. I am glad the House has recognized that the extra engine is a luxury we simply cannot afford.”
The ultimate fate of the amendment, let alone the underlying spending bill, is far from determined, as the House was continuing debate on the CR and the whole bill has yet to reach the Senate, where there remains widespread support for the F136.