House Approves Defense Bill, Strips F-22 Funds
Updated 2:41 p.m.
By Ben Pershing
The House easily approved a $636 billion defense spending bill Thursday, after voting to strip money for the controversial F-22 fighter but leaving funding in place for several other military programs the Obama administration doesn't want.
After the Senate voted last week 58-40 to strike the F-22 funding from its defense authorization bill, the House followed suit today by removing the money from its Pentagon appropriations measure. The amendment to cut the funding, sponsored by the bill's author, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), passed by a similarly wide margin, 269-165. The vast majority of Democrats voted in favor of killing the program, while most Republicans voted against.
Obama has threatened to veto the defense measure if it included the F-22 money. He also threatened a veto if it includes funding for the VH-71 presidential helicopter and for an alternative engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Money for both of the latter programs remains in the House bill, as does funding for other items the Pentagon doesn't want -- extra C-17 transport planes and F-18 jets, as well as the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, a missile defense program.
The House has now passed its versions of all 12 appropriations bills for 2010, but passage of the Defense spending bill is just one step in a long legislative process. The Senate has not moved its version of the measure through committee yet, and a final version of the bill won't emerge from conference negotiations until this fall at the earliest. Programs subject to an Obama veto threat could be removed during those House-Senate talks.
Separately, the House and Senate have both passed their versions of the defense authorization bill, and have begun initial negotiations on reconciling the two measures.
During Thursday's debate, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the House's leading crusader against earmarks, took aim against several projects for former clients of PMA, the now-defunct lobbying firm that is the subject of a federal investigation and a House ethics committee probe. The firm had close ties to Murtha, the chairman of the Defense appropriations subcommittee.
Murtha mounted a strongly-worded defense of many of the programs under assault from Flake, arguing that they were important to the national defense and the economic health of his Pennsylvania district.
One of the votes Thursday was on an "en bloc" amendment combining more than 500 separate Flake-sponsored amendments, each of them aimed at a different earmark in the defense bill. The amendment failed by a wide margin, as did a handful of amendments from other members to strike earmarks from the measure.
Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), the leader of a failed effort to cut money for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program, called the bill "our opportunity to do the right thing. At some point in time we're going to have to start looking at all our budgets, and that includes the defense budget."
But Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), a longtime appropriator, argued that Congress needed to play a role in allocating money, because while the administration and the Pentagon did their best, "They don't have all of the knowledge. They don't have all of the wisdom."
July 30, 2009; 2:41 PM ET
Categories: Branch vs. Branch , House , Purse Strings
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