House Backs General Electric Engine Over Pentagon’s Opposition

General Electric Co. won support from the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday in a battle to fund its backup engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, over objections from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The House, on a 231-193 vote, defeated an effort to remove $485 million for the engine that the House Armed Services Committee had included in the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill.

The House action came after the Senate Armed Services Committee decided earlier yesterday to reject funding for the GE engine. The full Senate hasn’t yet voted.

GE wants Congress to keep funding the F-35 backup engine. Gates has said having a second engine is a wasteful expense. Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp., supplies the primary engine for the Lockheed Martin Corp. jet and opposes the GE program.

The House voted down an amendment to strip the funding that was sponsored by Democrats John Larson of Connecticut and Chellie Pingree of Maine, whose districts have plants for Pratt & Whitney,

Differences between final House and Senate versions must be reconciled before a measure is sent to President Barack Obama. In a similar situation last year, the Senate declined to fund the engine and the House included $465 million. The money was included after negotiations on the final legislation.

The votes followed an effort by General Electric to get its congressional supporters to defy Gates on the $567 billion defense bill for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Gates wants to cut spending he considers excessive or wasteful, and has said he’ll ask Obama to veto the defense measure if it funds a second engine. The Pentagon has sought unsuccessfully for five years to cut the funding.

‘Long Journey’

Gates spokesman Geoff Morrell said in an e-mail statement that “we don’t want nor need the extra engine, but this is just one step in a long journey and Secretary Gates is committed to staying engaged in this process, including if necessary ultimately recommending President Obama veto this legislation.”

The House vote came on a bill that sets defense policy. Money it authorizes can’t be spent unless it is also included in a separate appropriations measure.

Larson said after the vote that if the money stayed in the final version, “I fully expect the president to follow through with his threatened veto.”

“Two administrations have tried to end this program, yet Congress keeps ramming it down the throat of the military,” Larson said.

GE’s efforts included letters from its Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt to all 435 House members.

Immelt wrote that letting Pratt & Whitney become the sole supplier would create a “$100 billion engine monopoly.” Competition would lower prices and let both suppliers maintain their workforces, he said.

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