$3 Billion Defense Earmark Pits Dems Against Obama

Congress is set to vote this week on a $3 billion defense earmark for a jet engine that the military reportedly doesn’t want or need. Top lawmakers are pushing for increased spending on an alternative engine for the F-35 joint strike fighter that the White House opposes, according to ABC News.

Congressional support for the new engine program puts some members of Democratic leadership at odds with President Obama, a critic of wasteful defense spending. The $3 billion hike in new funding comes just months after Congress approved a $465 million increase for the program.

The current F-35 jet engine is manufactured by Pratt & Whitney but some members of Congress argue that General Electric and Rolls-Royce should be paid to work on an additional one.

Rep. Adam Smith (D.-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, has argued for the acquisition of an alternate engine, claiming that competition is a vital part of the engine acquisition program.

“Competition has been demonstrated to help limit cost growth in acquisition programs,” Smith stated at a recent hearing, “including as the first alternate engine program did for the F-15, F-16 and F-14.”

Rep. Gene Taylor (D.-Miss.) described the program as “the best insurance against spiraling development costs and contractor responsiveness for the primary engine,” arguing that developing an alternative engine would result in long-term benefits for the military.

Despite bipartisan support for funding an additional F-35 engine, legislators in favor of the program face an uphill battle with opponents of the program in Obama’s cabinet.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a long-time critic of developing an alternative engine, recently referred to the program as “an unnecessary potential cost to the taxpayers of billions of dollars over the next few years.” Gates confirmed that the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy do not want an additional engine.

Gates recommended that Obama, who previously did not veto funding for the engine, exercise his presidential veto power if the program makes it into the defense budget. It was unclear Wednesday what decision the President would make.

Additionally, some lawmakers are unsatisfied with the idea of funding an alternative engine. An amendment was introduced this week that would cut engine development funding by $485 million, underscoring the intensity of the debate.

The House is expected to debate the issue Thursday when legislators will be try to balance wasteful spending with jobs at stake in their districts.