In Win For Obama, House Kills Jet Fighter Engine

In a notable reversal from last year, the House has voted to kill an expensive alternative jet fighter engine. It's a win for President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and a loss for the House speaker and others, whose districts would lose jobs. Half of Republicans who have been calling for deep spending cuts voted to retain the engine. But freshmen elected on a mandate to cut spending put their money where their mouth is and voted to kill it. Not to worry right away, though — while the vote shows where the House is headed, the funding bill that it's attached to is ultimately going nowhere.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Be careful what you wish for. It's timeless advice, and it could well apply to Speaker of the House John Boehner. All this week, Boehner has been urging the House to consider a slew of amendments to slash this year's federal spending.

The House came through in a vote yesterday. It cut off funding for a controversial jet fighter engine. In doing so, it handed President Obama a victory and dealt a blow to Boehner's home state of Ohio.

NPR's David Welna has our story.

DAVID WELNA: Building a jet engine for the nation's most advanced military aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, is a multi-billion- dollar business venture, and it's exactly what Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney has been doing for years. But at the insistence of Congress, General Electric and Rolls Royce have been developing a second, alternative engine for the F-35 at a cost of $28 million a month.

Democrat John Larson hails from Connecticut. He co-sponsored the amendment ending further funding of that second engine. Here's Larson on the House floor.

JOHN LARSON: Do what the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the secretary of Defense, the Bush administration and the Obama administration have asked Congress to do: End this wasteful, duplicative spending.

WELNA: But Republican Steve Chabot, whose state of Ohio happens to have more than 1,000 jobs riding on the second engine, argued that two jet engines competing is actually a good deal for the Pentagon.

STEVE CHABOT: The Department of Defense says we don't need a second engine, but these issues won't fix themselves. Only competition will help control costs and create a better, more efficient process.

WELNA: Speaking yesterday before House Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made clear he wanted the second engine program terminated.

ROBERT GATES: I will look at all available legal options to close down this program. It would be a waste of nearly $3 billion in a time of economic distress, and the money is needed for higher priority defense efforts.

WELNA: And a few hours later, the House voted to cut off the $450 million that was to be spent this year on the second engine. Indiana's Dan Burton, whose state also benefits from building that engine, was among the majority of Republicans who voted to keep the funding and defy Secretary Gates.

DAN BURTON: Sometimes I agree with him, and sometimes I don't. In this particular case, I didn't.

WELNA: But most newly elected House Republicans campaigned on cutting wasteful spending. More than half voted to defund the second engine, as did two out of three Democrats. Speaker Boehner himself did not vote, but he'd argued for continued funding of that engine.

Today, Boehner was asked about the jobs that could be lost in Ohio if that funding is cut off.

JOHN BOEHNER: I am committed to the House working its will, and it did yesterday. This is not about me. This is not about my district.

WELNA: Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gates was grilled today by John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee's ranking Republican and a long-time foe of the second engine.

JOHN MCCAIN: I take it you were pleased at the House's decision on the - what did you call it, the additional engine yesterday...

GATES: The extra engine.

MCCAIN: Extra - excuse me, extra engine. You - I take it that you would support efforts over here to do the same?

GATES: Absolutely.

WELNA: Whatever happens to the engine in the Senate, it may have been dealt a fatal blow in the GOP-controlled House.

David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol.

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