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Obama Loses House F136 Vote

Final tally: 193-231.

In the end the vote on the amendment stripping F136 funding from the defense policy bill was not as close as it might have been, but for the leadership of the House Armed Services Committee and General Electric and Rolls Royce it was close enough.

This vote must be seen as an important defeat for the White House and for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who repeatedly said he would urge the president to veto a bill containing funding or approval for the F136.

The initial story we're getting is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose power in the House can be enormous, stood off and left the fight to leaders of the House Armed Services Committee, most of whom believe firmly in funding and building a second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. Several Hill sources said that lawmakers who rarely pay close attention to defense issues were clamoring for background information about the issue of whether to build two engines several days before the vote. For such lawmakers, the leadership of the House's most experienced defense policy experts must have been both comforting and helpful.

Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the HASC, has been a staunch supporter of the second engine and marshalled his information, working closely with GOP lawmakers who share his view.

While a Senate floor vote would probably be very close, one source who keeps a close eye on F136 issues said Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will keep a similar amendment out of the SASC bill and take the House bill to the conference between Senate and House lawmakers. That would make it procedurally challenging for F135 supporters to stop the final defense policy from approving F136 funding.

F135 maker Pratt & Whitney spokeswoman Erin Dick took the high and optimistic road in a statement issued soon after the vote:

Pratt & Whitney is pleased with the action in the Senate Armed Services Committee which did not authorize the continued funding of the extra engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, and appreciate the support of Senator Lieberman (I-CT) on this important issue.

We are aware that the House of Representatives voted not to support the administration and the Department of Defenses' position of having the Pratt & Whitney F135 as the engine of choice for the Joint Strike Fighter. We recognize that the legislative process has just begun, and that the issue will continue to be debated for many months, and we appreciate the leadership of Representatives Larson (D-CT), Pingree (D-ME) Rooney (R-FL) and Westmoreland (R-GA) during this important debate.

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