House Armed Services Committee Revives Redundant Fighter Engine Pentagon Doesn’t Want

Despite rhetoric about the imminent need to cut federal spending, the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee late last night approved a $700 billion military funding allocation for next year — the Pentagon’s largest budget ever — including a “lifeline” to the presumed-dead extra engine for F-35 fighter jet:

During a markup of the 2012 Pentagon authorization measure, House Armed Services Committee members approved one amendment that would allow Rolls and GE access to equipment so they could continue testing a second F-35 power plant. […]

[T]he panel shot down an amendment introduced by [Rep. Jim] Cooper [R-TX] that would have siphoned $380.6 million from the F-35 fighter program. It also would have reduced the planned buy of the Marines’ version of the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 in 2012, from six to four.

The second engine for the F-35 is one of the most obvious and least painful places to cut federal spending, as the military has insisted for several years that it doesn’t want it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has even urged President Obama to veto any defense authorization that includes funding for the project, saying, “Every dollar additional to the budget that we have to put into the F-35 is a dollar taken from something else that the troops may need.”

Finally, at the Pentagon’s urging, the full House voted to kill funding for the extra engine in February, but last night’s vote is the first step to resurrecting the project. While the new measure allocates no funds for the project, with the defense contractors working on the project offering to self-fund testing in the meantime, the clear assumption underlying their investment is that the project will be fully revived one day.

Last night’s vote was a big “helping hand to Rolls-Royce and GE,” the lead contractors on the project — and they’ve earned it. The companies dispatched a small army of lobbyists from 13 different firms to the Capitol and have donated heavily to key lawmakers. GE gave $223,000 to members of the Armed Services Committee in the 2010 election cycle alone, including $8,500 to Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA). Rolls-Royce’s PAC gave almost $10,000 to McKeon in the 2010 cycle. Other supposed fiscal hawks like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) have also defended the redundant project.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the committee also approved spending an extra $100 million on missile defense, money which could have instead gone to National Guard and Reserve equipment needs.