Monday, July 13, 2009

Fighter Debate Clouds Senate Consideration of Defense Policy Measure

July 13, 2009 – 2:00 p.m.

The Senate began consideration Monday of the annual defense authorization bill with a contentious debate over whether to terminate the F-22 fighter jet program.

The fiscal 2010 defense policy bill would authorize $1.75 billion to build seven more of the planes. The money would have to be appropriated in the defense-spending bill, which has yet to be written in either chamber.

Carl Levin , D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, took to the floor with a letter from President Obama that repeated his threat to veto any bill authorizing additional F-22 production. Obama wants to shut down the F-22 production line after 187 of the jets are delivered, and his letter said additional procurements would “waste valuable resources.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen , chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, backed Obama’s position in a letter of their own.

Levin had said last week, however, that he did not believe Obama would exercise his veto over the F-22 issue. Still, he and John McCain of Arizona, the committee’s ranking Republican, introduced an amendment to strike the authorization for more F-22s.

“I would strongly recommend the president of the United States to go ahead and veto this bill if the F-22 is included,” McCain said on the floor. “Right now the votes are not there to pass this amendment.”

McCain said decisions about production of the plane should “not be based on jobs,” but rather on national security needs.

The F-22 is the first issue to provoke a veto threat from Obama. He first raised the prospect last month over a House-passed provision in its version of the bill authorizing $369 million to procure parts for a dozen F-22s that would be completed using fiscal 2011 funds.

F-22 supporters, including Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson , Republicans from Georgia, where the planes are assembled, were expected to defend the building of more planes.

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