Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Defense Appropriator Backs Off Proposed VIP Jet Purchase

Aug. 11, 2009 – 1:26 p.m.

The chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee is backing away from his panel’s proposal to fund VIP jetliners that the Obama administration did not request.

John P. Murtha said in a statement that he will no longer push for funding of the additional planes. The money would have come through the $636.3 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal 2010.

The administration had sought four planes — one Gulfstream V and three Boeing 737s for $220 million — but the House-passed bill would have doubled the order, at a cost of $550 million.

“If the Department of Defense does not want these aircraft, they will be eliminated from the bill,” said Murtha, D-Pa.

Murtha’s retreat came amid opposition to the additional spending from the Pentagon and from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress.

This week, three Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, which plans to begin writing the Senate’s version of the bill next month, came out in opposition to the additional planes. In response to queries, the offices of Democrats Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota and Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland said they oppose any unrequested jetliners. Republican Christopher S. Bond of Missouri also is against the additional planes, his spokeswoman confirmed.

Murtha, in his statement, defended the notion of procuring the additional planes, even as he backed away from saying they would remain in the bill. He said the older planes that would be replaced pose potential safety risks and are saddled with costly maintenance expenses. He also pointed out that the executive branch, not lawmakers, use the planes most often.

“Over the last five years, 85 percent of the use of these planes has been by the executive branch,” Murtha said.

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