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F-35 engine battle breaks out on US spending bill


The F-35A

WASHINGTON (AP): The Obama administration's campaign against a costly alternative engine for the Pentagon's next-generation fighter jet faces a critical vote in the Republican-controlled House.

The engine battle pits President Barack Obama and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who say the engine would waste almost USD 3 billion over the next few years, against Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner, whose state Ohio is a chief beneficiary.

The spending measure includes USD 450 million for the engine, which would be built by the General Electric Co and Rolls-Royce in Ohio, Indiana and other states.

On the other side are lawmakers from Connecticut, where the main F-35 fighter engine is built by Pratt & Whitney, as well members from Florida, Texas and other states.

The F-35 engine vote presents 87 new Republican lawmakers, infused with fervour to cut spending, with a dilemma: Vote with the Obama administration to cut spending now or side with supporters of the alternative engine, who argue that it would save money by injecting competition into the F-35 program, the costliest weapons program in Defence Department history.

Debate on the bill is expected to take all week and the House worked late into last night. A frosty reception awaits the bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which won't take up its version until next month. So it'll require passage of a separate short-term government funding bill by March 4 to prevent a government shutdown that neither side says it wants.

The expected vote Wednesday comes as the House enters its second day of debate on a USD 1.2 trillion spending bill that would wrap up the unfinished business lawmakers inherited after last year's collapse of the budget process.

That includes USD 1.03 trillion for agency operating budgets that need annual approval by Congress and USD 158 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The engine battle divides along regional rather than party lines, in contrast to the partisan warfare on the underlying bill, which sharply cuts domestic programmes and foreign aid and earned a veto threat from the White House budget office and a warning from Obama against unwise cuts "that could endanger the recovery."

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