The 87 new Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives may face a test of defense spending versus deficit cutting this week as Congress decides whether to continue funding a backup engine for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The spare engine, being developed by General Electric Co. and Rolls Royce Group Plc, is targeted for elimination by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who today called it an “unnecessary and extravagant expense.”
Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives in November when many candidates campaigned against government spending.
Most freshman lawmakers have not disclosed their position on continued funding for the GE-Rolls Royce engine.
The House is expected this week to start debating a Pentagon spending bill for the remainder of the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30. That bill includes $450 million for the development of the GE-Rolls Royce engine. The primary engine is built by Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.
Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio supports the second engine program. About 1,000 GE employees work on the backup engine at a facility in Evendale, Ohio.
Representative Tom Rooney, Republican of Florida, is offering an amendment to eliminate funding for the engine when the House debates the Pentagon spending bill. That amendment is co-sponsored by Representatives John Larson, Democrat of Connecticut, Lynn Westmoreland, Republican of Georgia and Chellie Pingree, Democrat of Maine.
Rooney, Larson and Pingree proposed a similar amendment when the House debated the 2011 defense authorization act. That amendment was defeated 231 to 193 on May 27, 2010, the last roll-call vote on the second engine issue.
Both GE and United Technologies have been lobbying the new members of Congress since January to secure their votes.
For more than four years, GE has defied the Pentagon and convinced Congress to fund the backup engine for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35. The $382 billion F-35 program is the most expensive in U.S. history. GE Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey R. Immelt last year sent notes to all the 435 members of Congress to ask for their support on the engine.
Obama has picked Immelt to lead the new President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Obama former press secretary Robert Gibbs said in January that the appointment does not change the president’s position on the F-35 engine.
Obama released his 2012 budget proposal today that did not include money for the GE-Rolls Royce engine. In a press briefing at the Pentagon, Gates warned that he was willing to look at “all available legal options” to shut down the back up engine if Congress continues providing money for it. Gates said that he hoped that the new lawmakers focused on “fiscal responsibility” would vote against the secondary engine to save $3 billion.
GE Aviation spokesman Rick Kennedy disputed the $3 billion needed to complete the development of the backup engine. “GE and Rolls Royce believe the number is closer to $1.8 billion,” Kennedy said in an e-mailed statement.
Rooney’s amendment to strike the $450 million for the GE engine in the Pentagon’s 2011 budget is being fought in advance by supporters of the second engine.
Representative Roscoe Bartlett, the Maryland Republican who leads the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee, set up a staff briefing on the engine. In his note to fellow House Republicans, Bartlett “‘encourages members, especially freshmen members,’’ to send their aides to briefing.
Representatives Robert Andrews, Democrat of New Jersey, and Michael Conaway, Republican of Texas, sent letters to House lawmakers pressing for support of the GE engine, saying there would be at least $21 billion in long-term savings if GE continues to compete with United Technologies on the program.
Representatives Rodney Alexander, Republican of Louisiana, and Mike McIntyre, Democrat of North Carolina, also sent letters to their House colleagues in support of the GE engine.
-- Editors: Steven Komarow, Terry Atlas