In a sign that no federal agency if off the table when it comes to cutting government spending, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted 233 to 198 Wednesday to cancel an alternate fighter jet engine program which Defense Secretary Robert Gates called "unnecessary."
The Joint Strike Fighter is reportedly America's most expensive weapons program. The F-35 is a radar-evading fighter and the Pentagon has planned to spend $380 billion for 2,400 new planes over 25 years.
The alternate engine program was initially meant to create competition to drive down prices. Eventually, the cost of the program reached a staggering $100 billion in engine purchases and Secretary Gates said the alternate engine seemed like more of a luxury than a necessity.
The duplicate engine program has also long been labeled as a pork-barrel project on Capitol Hill, and both President Obama and his predecessor have tried and failed to scrap it. Support for the program has historically been based in geography. Members of Congress representing states like Indiana and Ohio -- where General Electric Co. and Rolls-Royce build the engines -- have traditionally supported the spending measure. In the past, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has supported the engine, but abstained from voting Wednesday, as is the tradition of the office.
Likewise, for members of Boehner's party to oppose the engine program is widely seen as a rebuke of the Speaker. But a number of fiscal conservatives stood firm in their opposition. According to the New York Times, 47 of the 87 new Republican members of Congress voted to cancel the alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, while 40 others voted to keep it alive.
Many of the freshmen Republicans in the House had been hesitant to trim military spending as part of their drive to reduce the nation’s large budget deficits.
But after forcing Mr. Boehner and other Republican leaders to propose greater cuts in domestic programs, they agreed to include $16 billion in military cuts in this year’s spending bill, which is being debated on the floor this week.
Killing the engine would cut an additional $450 million and save up to $3 billion over the next several years.
Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., introduced the measure to cut the program, and told the Huffington Post that he was happy to see members of his caucus working to live up to their campaign promises of reduced spending.
"What it comes down to is what was the November election about?" he said after the vote. "What were you sent here to do? And that was to cut spending. I have $450 million we can cut today. The speculation that over the next 50 years, two engines might drive down costs, is just that -- it's speculative."
"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,” a Pentagon spokesman announced Wednesday after the vote.
G.E. reportedly plans to ask the Senate to strike down the House-approved measure to restore the funds. But even if the Senate restored the money, the measure would need to gain subsequent approval in a House-Senate joint conference committee.