The power of the Tea Party and other deficit conscious Republicans was on full display today as the House passed an amendment stripping $450 million for the second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter from HR 1, the continuing resolution for 2011.
The vote of 233-198 may mark a tipping point for the defense budget generally. It was split closely between the GOP and Democrats, marking the first time that a major defense program has been whacked under the new Congress.
The amendment, sponsored by House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Tom Rooney, passed just before 2 p.m. today.
Its victory marked a sharp blow to the power of two lions of the appropriations committee, chairman of the defense subcommittee, Rep. Bill Young, and the HAC's chairman, Rep. Hal Rogers. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who urged House members to oppose the F136, must be deeply satisfied with the result.
"This shows how election of Tea Party Republicans has changed the political calculus in Congress," Loren Thompson, defense analyst and consultant said in an email. "Proponents of the second engine argued it could save the government money by enabling competition, but members were more impressed by the up-front cost of funding a second production line and supply network." It also "really puts [House] Speaker [John] Boehner on the spot, because he was a leading proponent of pork-barrel spending that would have benefited his district. He doesn't look like he's in tune with the dominant trend in his party."
Robbin Laird, an international defense consultant who served on the National Security Council, said the House vote was shortsighted.
"Cutting off funding at this stage makes little sense; the engine is virtually paid for and provides significant capability for the aircraft, security of supply and a an alternative team to PW which can help market the plane worldwide," he said.
General Electric, who partners with Rolls Royce on the engine, tried to put the best face on the vote. Company officials had been watching the vote closely but had not seemed unduly worried about the outcome.
"The House defense bill will be sent to the U.S. Senate, where the debate continues," GE spokesman Rick Kennedy said in an email to reporters. "We will continue to press the case for competition as the FY11 budget is finalized and as the FY12 budget debate continues."
This also marks a slap in the face of House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon who has supported the F136 through thick and thin. Yet one of his own committee members, Rooney, sponsored the amendment that stripped funding for the program.
This also marks a bad call for DoD Buzz. We had predicted the likely passage of the funding. Now we know just how much Congress has changed since the November elections.
Is the F136 dead? That remains to be seen is all we'll say after today's vote.