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Vote Delay Keeps F-22 Alive, For Now

Opponents hoped to strip spending for the fighter plane, which has strong political supporters, from the military spending bill

The Air Force doesn't want it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates refuses it. Even the F-22 Raptor fighter jet's maker, Lockheed Martin (LMT) isn't fighting for it. And President Barack Obama so dislikes the notion of buying more F-22s—and the waste he believes such spending represents—he's following Gates' recommendation and vowing to veto an entire military spending bill if members of Congress refuse to take it out.

But that hasn't stopped a number of politicians, the many representatives of the F-22's vast constituency established over years by Lockheed, its subcontractors, and unions representing Lockheed workers, from digging in their heels. The saga seemed far from settled on July 15, as a key vote to strip out $1.75 billion in spending on the F-22 was first scheduled, then delayed until the following week.

Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had teamed up with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), another avid F-22 opponent, but Levin withdrew his amendment in deference to Senate leaders who want a vote on a controversial hate crimes bill first. Work on the F-22 is centered in Georgia but occurs in almost every state, and many politicians are digging in their heels.

Luring Supporters

While the Administration proposed an end to the F-22 program, Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss in June persuaded his colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee to approve the additional money for the F-22. Meanwhile, the House approved a $369 million down payment for 12 more F-22s.

Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to file a cloture Wednesday, a vote that would advance the hate crimes bill. That means the F-22 will not be up for discussion by the Senate until next week.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the Majority Leader preferred to get a vote on the F-22 first, but it became apparent that supporters of the plane were not interested in having a vote this week.

Interested parties have been lobbying members for congressional support on what is anticipated to be an extremely close vote on the F-22 amendment.

"I don't want to give you a vote count," Levin told reporters. "It's going to be a close vote."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Epstein is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Washington bureau.

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