UPDATED: With Vote Analysis
In a vote sure to be read as a sign of the Obama administration's power on defense matters, the Senate voted by a lopsided 40-58 in favor of an amendment stripping $1.75 billion for the F-22 from the defense authorization bill.
You could almost hear the whoops in Defense Secretary Robert Gates' offices as he and his team scored a decisive victory. Gates' reputation as a man willing to take tough decisions and to stick with them gained greatly and won enhanced credibility with the vote. He will be difficult to defeat on any major program decision he takes for the foreseeable future.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he knew stopping production of the fighter would be painful but he and his fellow lawmakers had to grasp such nettles "based on what is best for the nation and what is best for the men and women of the armed forces." Another factor that clearly played a role in swinging reluctant lawmakers behind Levin and Sen. John McCain were the clear signals sent from the Pentagon that F-22 production should be stopped. "The recommendation is strong and clear, as strong and clear as I have ever heard," Levin said on the Senate floor.
In a sign of just how much importance the White House attached to the vote, President Obama told reporters right after the Senate acted that the country just could not afford any more Raptors.
"At a time when we’re fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this would have been an inexcusable waste of money. Every dollar of waste in our defense budget is a dollar we can’t spend to support our troops, or prepare for future threats, or protect the American people. Our budget is a zero-sum game, and if more money goes to F-22s, it is our troops and citizens who lose," Obama said.
The Associated Press reported that Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel lobbied senators, as did Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who led the fight for the Raptor, said he had "never seen the White House lobby the way they've lobbied on this issue."
A scan of the vote provides some interesting insights into just how bipartisan this issue was. A preponderance of Democrats did vote to kill production. The toll was 42 Democrats, 15 Republicans and one Independent in favor of Levin-McCain. True, Republicans voted almost two to one for the F-22's continued production (25 voted against the Levin-McCain amendment), but there were conservative GOP heavyweights who voted against the plane. For example, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona is a stalwart conservative on many defense matters. A reliable supporter of all things missile defense, Kyl voted with his Arizona colleague, McCain to oppose the F-22. Sen. Mike Enzi, another solid conservative, voted with Kyl.
Those who wanted to continue production were a distinctly more conservative lot. Some 25 Republicans voted with 14 Democrats and one Independent to keep building the plane. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a conservative on defense matters, was the one Independent voting for the plane. Of course, Lieberman was not the only Connecticut senator voting for continued production. Sen. Christopher Dodd, generally one of the more liberal members of the Senate, cast his lot with continued production. After all, there are as many as 2,000 F-22 jobs at stake in Connecticut. Dodd and Lieberman were joined by Sen. Barbara Boxer, one of the most liberal members of the Senate in voting for the F-22. Finally, they were joined by the former head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, and the current head of the committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. The vice president lobbied his former colleague, Inouye, to no avail. Inouye's Hawaiian colleague, Daniel Akaka, also voted to keep building Raptors.