Killed by Tea Party GOP, Second F-35 Engine Revived

House panel ignores Obama, Gates, House majority in new earmark for General Electric.


So much for the influence of the new fiscally-assertive Tea Party GOP in the House. Two months after they snubbed the GOP leadership, including Speaker John Boehner, and voted 233-198 to kill a costly, duplicate F-35 jet engine the Pentagon doesn't want, a House panel is planning to revive it.

Condemned as a $450 million-a-year boondoggle earmark from House leaders who represent General Electric jet engine workers, supporters on the GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee yesterday included a provision in the fiscal 2012 Pentagon spending bill that would force the department to continue the dueling engine programs for the Joint Strike Fighter.

Section 215 of the markup from the tactical air and land forces committee, however, does not include any funding. Instead, it limits spending for improvements to the F-35 Lightning II propulsion system, now focused only on Pratt & Whitney engines, unless the secretary of defense continues with the General Electric engine project.

A committee spokesman said that the panel continues to feel that having Pratt & Whitney and GE-Rolls Royce continue competing to supply the F-35 engine will save money and provide a better product.

Presidents Bush and Obama have sought to kill the duplicative project and failed, until the February House vote. Eventually, Congress killed the earmark, and last month Pentagon Secretary Bob Gates ended the program.

In late March, calling the program to build the GE-Rolls Royce engine in Evandale, Ohio, near Cincinnati a "waste of taxpayer's money," he issued a stop work order. GE vowed to carry on even if it meant spending their own money.

As word spread this morning among Tea Party-backed Republicans and fiscal conservatives about the provision from the committee, chaired by ardent supporter Howard "Buck" McKeon, concerns grew that it would prompt an embarrassing second vote on the funding for the engine. At the time, many viewed the vote as a symbolic shift away from earmark spending.

"Its unbelievable they could be that thick-headed. With the deficit at 1.7 trillion this year, my GOP has to get serious," said one conservative adviser to House leaders.

Previously, Congress included $450 million for the GE engine project. Indications were that the committee was mulling adding $20 million for what would essentially be a new project. A committee spokesman, however, said that no money has been set aside.

Officials said that Boehner, who had supported the GE project, did not push the committee to revive the engine.

Foes of the second engine predict that the committee's effort will fail. "It's the earmark that just won't die," said one source.

Below is the second engine language in the House Armed Services Committee's Pentagon spending bill:

Section 215-Limitation on Obligation of Funds for the Propulsion System for the F-35 Lightning II Aircraft Program.

This section would limit the obligation or expenditure of funds for performance improvements to the F-35 Lightning II propulsion system unless the Secretary of Defense ensures that funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2012 for the continued development and procurement of two options for such propulsion system are obligated or expended in order to ensure the competitive production of such propulsion system.

This section would define the term "performance improvement", with respect to the propulsion system for the F -35 Lightning II aircraft program, as an increase in fan or core engine airflow volume or maximum thrust in military or afterburner setting for the primary purpose of improving the take-off performance or vertical load bring back of such aircraft, and would not include development or procurement improvements with respect to weight, acquisition cost, operations and support costs, durability, manufacturing efficiencies, observability requirements, or repair costs.