U.S. House Votes to Kill GE Engine for F-35 Fighter

House Kills F-35 Engine Funds in Defeat for Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner argued that General Electric's F136 engine would eventually produce savings for the government over time. Source: GE

The U.S. House of Representatives today voted to kill funding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter backup engine made by General Electric Co. and Rolls Royce Group Plc.

By a vote of 233-198, the House voted to cut $450 million for the engine from legislation funding the Pentagon for the remainder of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

It is the first time in more than four years of votes that the House has come out against the GE-Rolls Royce engine for the F-35, the stealth fighter made by Lockheed Martin Corp. In May, 2010, the House voted 231-193 to continue the program.

President Barack Obama has singled out the engine as wasteful spending. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today the alternate engine “would be a waste of nearly $3 billion.”

Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and gained seats in the Senate in November with candidates who promised to cut spending and reduce the federal deficit.

Backers of the amendment defied House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, who supports the alternate engine. GE has about 1,000 employees working on the engine in a facility near Cincinnati.

The primary engine for the F-35 is built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

GE fell 2 cents to $21.44 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, while Hartford, Connecticut-based United Technologies rose 56 cents to $85.06.

‘Always Another Day’

Representative Tom Rooney, Republican of Florida, offered the amendment to eliminate funding. It was co-sponsored by Representatives Lynn Westmoreland, Republican of Georgia, John Larson, Democrat of Connecticut, and Chellie Pingree, Democrat of Maine. Both Democrats have constituents working for United Technologies on the primary engine.

Among those who voted to eliminate funding for the GE-Rolls Royce engine were 123 Democrats and 110 Republicans. In favor of keeping the $450 million in the Pentagon bill were 130 Republicans and 68 Democrats.

“Today’s vote sends a message to the American people that Congress heard their call to eliminate wasteful spending and put an end to business as usual,” Rooney said in a statement.

The amendment is part of a spending bill that will go next to the Senate if the House approves it.

Today’s House vote “would make it harder for the Senate” to support the engine, Pingree said in a telephone interview. “There is always another day and another fight around the corner. This was an important victory today and it makes it much harder for the other side to bring it up.”

Senate Next

Two House Republican freshmen, Tim Griffin of Arkansas and Robert Dold of Illinois, this week also pressed their colleagues to support the elimination of the GE engine.

“I am sure that we will now join the House to end this wasteful, unnecessary program once and for all,” said Senator Joe Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, where Pratt & Whitney builds the primary F-35 engine.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has insisted repeatedly that the Pentagon is comfortable with one supplier of engines for the F-35 fleet.

“We are pleased the House of Representatives voted to eliminate funding for the extra engine,” Stephanie Duvall, a spokeswoman for Pratt & Whitney, said in a statement. “Their courageous vote confirms the president’s and Secretary Gates’s unwavering trust and confidence in the proven performance” in Pratt’s engine.

GE’s Fighter Future

“We will continue to press the case for competition,” said Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for GE Aviation. GE will focus on the Senate after the House approves legislation to fund the government for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the fiscal 2012 year which starts Oct. 1, according to Kennedy.

The defeat, if sustained, may mean GE’s eventual exit from the fighter engine business because the F-35 is designed to replace all manned U.S. fighter aircraft. The market has been estimated as high as $100 billion over the life of the F-35, including parts and service.

GE, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, in October reported spending $8.2 million starting in mid-2009 to urge Congress to fund the alternate engine.

About 2,500 jobs, including in Ohio, Massachusetts and South Carolina, are tied to the development of the engine with employment forecast to swell to as much as 4,000 if GE and Rolls-Royce had reached their projected peak production, according to Kennedy.

Gates ‘Gratified’

Gates was “gratified” by the House vote, said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. “He understands 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 $382 billion F-35 program is the most expensive in U.S. history.

For two years in a row, the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee didn’t include money for the additional engine in the Pentagon spending and policy bills. The chairmen of those two panels, Senator Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, and Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, both back the second engine. They decided against including funding because the Senate has enough votes to strip funding from the defense bills.

“It is doubtful that the alternate engine would have a better fate” in the Senate, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan group in Washington. “The House has really carried the water on the alternate engine. It is really hard to see the Senate ginning up the support to fight both the House and the administration over the alternate engine in this budget environment.”

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