House votes to scrap F-35 engine: why Gates can't crow too loudly
The House voted Wednesday to stop funding for an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – a program Defense Secretary Robert Gates called 'unnecessary.' But his arm-twisting of Congress is far from finished.
By day’s end Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had scored a considerable victory.Skip to next paragraph
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Just hours after he told Congress that it must halt funding for the production of a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – or he would “look at all available legal options" to do it himself – the House heeded his warning. It voted 233 to 198 to kill the program that Gates had called “an unnecessary and extravagant expense."
But shortly after the vote, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell issued a statement that was measured in its praise: "This afternoon’s vote is but one step, although a very important one, on the path to ensuring that we stop spending limited dollars on unwanted and unneeded defense programs.”
The day, in many respects, encapsulated the challenges Gates faces as he goes before Congress this week to answer questions about the Pentagon’s budget.
On one hand, the secretary who has challenged the military establishment to take a "hard, unsparing look" at spending, must first convince lawmakers to go along with cuts to pricey programs that the department deems wasteful. No small feat, given that legislators tend to protect lucrative defense contracts in their home districts, such as the contract to build a second, backup engine for the F-35.
Gates on the offensive
In an effort to make the stakes for the military clear to lawmakers on this path, Gates went on the offensive Wednesday morning in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. His focus was one that has come to dominate the Pentagon in recent weeks: the 2011 budget. He warned that Congress's apparent willingness to punt on passing a budget for this fiscal year and instead merely pass a stopgap "continuing resolution" threatens to cause “serious damage” to the US military.