Boehner-backed fighter spending shot down

Maybe Speaker John Boehner has found a way to unite the parties in his fractious House: by getting them to team up against $3 billion in defense spending that he supported for his home state of Ohio, even though the Pentagon doesn’t even want it.

Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., yesterday offered an amendment to the House Republicans’ budget plan, HR 1, that would zero out spending on the develop a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reports, the Pentagon is satisfied with the engine it has, made by Pratt & Whitney, and it doesn’t want the second engine, made by General Electric and others. Eliminating the second engine would save $450 million this year and some $3 billion over 10 years, a cut President Barack Obama supports and for which Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been advocating for years.

Rooney discussed the spending on the House floor yesterday:

Reps. John Larson, D-Conn.; Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; and Tim Griffin, R-Ark., co-authored the amendment with Rooney. As ABC News notes, the main F-35 fighter engine is built by Pratt & Whitney in Larson’s home state of Connecticut; as the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald reports, Pingree’s district hosts a Pratt & Whitney plant that would gain jobs if that company was the sole contractor for the engine.

But, per Milbank, a GE plant that develops the second engine employs 7,000 people in Evendale, Ohio, near Boehner’s district, and so he has pushed to keep the funding.

Ultimately, the House today voted 233-198 to cut the spending, with no party lines in sight: 110 Republicans and 123 Democrats carried the day on this one. The only Bay Area member to vote against Rooney’s amendment was Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

UPDATE @ 0900 THURSDAY: McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh just sent me this statement:

“As someone with years of experience in engineering, Congressman McNerney has a strong appreciation for the benefits of competition between manufacturers as well as the value of an alternate design in a project of this magnitude. Also, according to analysis by the Government Accountability Office, competition between multiple manufactures will likely yield savings in the long-run as well as reduce the risk of dependence on a single design produced by one manufacturer.”

Rooney had addressed this argument Wednesday in a news release:

By this argument, if two engine sources are better than one, then three or four or even ten would be better than two. Just like we cannot afford ten engines, we cannot afford two. Competition does not mean buying two of everything. If that were the case, every aircraft would have multiple source engines.

Secretary Gates has said, “Even after factoring in this unneeded finding, DoD’s cost Analysis and Program Evaluation (CAPE) estimates that the engine still requires a further investment of $2.9 billion to make this program truly competitive by FY17.

“The $2.9 billion cost is real and certain but the benefits of a second engine are not. CAPE has concluded that a second engine might provide savings if both engine vendors respond to competitive pressure and drive prices lower and the second engine supplier matches the F135’s vendor prices for the duration of the competition. The navy has stated they will only buy one engine to avoid having to maintain two different engines aboard a ship. While DoD favors competition where possible, in this case there would not be true competition between the engine vendors. Therefore, it is DoD’s strong judgment that these real costs outweigh the theoretical benefit.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Truthclubber

    “The only Bay Area member to vote against Rooney’s amendment was Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.”

    This vote alone is cause enough to getting him defeated in 2012 — this idiot has no clue about what the current state of affairs is in this country — CUT OUT ALL WASTEFUL SPENDING!

    Even the Secretary of Defense said “please vote FOR this amendment — we DON’T want the money!” and McNerdly wanted to flush yet more of your hard-earned money (we’re talking about hundreds of millions, here!) down a military-industrial complex rathole…

    Get rid of this fool, NOW. He clearly voted with Boehner pn this one to get some purely individual-based (and not party-based, or country-based) and highly questionable leverage — so he is clearly NOT suited to represent his district.

  • Josh Richman

    The roll call on this amendment didn’t become available until about 6 p.m. PST, which was late to start seeking a comment from McNerney’s office; I intend to follow up on it tomorrow.

  • Truthclubber

    Josh, with all due respect, McNerdly’s vote on this critical issue is comment enough — actions speak louder than words, and actions have consequences, intended or OTHERWISE. How would Harmer have voted? It’s obvious — a declarative “YES”!

    Whoever the 2012 GOP candidate is to take out this “formerly unemployed wind consultant hack”, I can see the campaign ads already forming with Rooney’s speech urging, pleading, begging for stoppage of this obscene spending, and suddenly “stamped over” with a “McNerdly voted to waste MORE of YOUR money, AGAIN!” insert — and if I was running that oppo campaign, I would run that ad “all day long”…

  • Josh Richman

    Before guaranteeing who would’ve/should’ve voted which way, you might want to consider that almost twice as many Republicans (130) voted against Rooney’s amendment as Democrats (68).

  • Truthclubber

    Josh —

    Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every so often, and a broken clock is right twice each day.

    The FACT remains that none of the rest of the Bay area delegation voted against this budget cut that the Pentagon said they WANTED cut, and this amendment passed with solid bipartisan support — but WITHOUT McNerdly’s help.

    As a wise President (who Obama has praised) once said,
    “Facts are stubborn things — they refuse to go away.”

    Your inability (as of 11:30 am today, 2/17/11) to get McNerdly on the record here defending his ridiculous and wasteful spending vote speaks volumes…

  • Josh Richman

    You must’ve missed the update I posted at 0900 this morning with a statement from McNerney’s office.

  • John W

    As a McNerney supporter, I hate to say this. His explanation doesn’t make much sense. What’s the real reason? Keep digging.

  • Josh Richman

    I do see that General Electric’s PAC gave McNerney’s campaign $5,000 last year, but that was just below the average contribution the company gave to 194 House Democrats in the 2010 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics – hardly an overt vote buyer.

  • John W

    I own GE stock, but that didn’t make me favor buying their engine. The $5k hardly seems to be enough to motivate a stupid vote like this. Perhaps it’s about GE not backing his challenger in 2012, since the Supreme Court decision allows that. Maybe this is an early indication that companies like GE really do intend to throw their weight around in tight races where they can make a difference. The argument about competitive suppliers is clearly a talking point provided by GE lobbyists, because I’ve heard House members from both parties who voted against killing the engine regugitate that argument on the news channels today.

    I’ve written to McNerney expressing my disappointment, calling his explanation BS and asking for the real reason.