With a single vote this past week, the formula for killing the alternate engine changed. On February 16, 2011 the House of Representatives voted 233-198 to eliminate funding for the F136 Alternate Engine for F-35 the Joint Strike Fighter. The bipartisan amendment to the Full-Year Continuing Resolution (CR) was offered by Reps. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) and John Larson (D-Conn.).
This rejection of the F136 by the House should spell the end of the program. In recent years, the Senate has refused to add funding for the project in their version of the Defense appropriations bill, but the project has always found its way in thanks to its many powerful backers and support in the House. Prior to this amendment, the only hope for the elimination of funding for the alternate engine was a presidential veto, which has been repeatedly threatened by the Obama Administration.
The wall-to-wall criticism of the alternate engine is well chronicled. The project has been condemned as wasteful and unnecessary by both the Bush and Obama administrations and numerous top military officials. As recently as January 6, 2011, Secretary Gates stated that spending limited resources on the alternate engine constitutes excessive overhead and that the program is unneeded. The project barely escaped the cutting board for this fiscal year when an 11th hour letter from Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew included funding for the F136 in the CR. Since 2004, Congress has earmarked more than $1.2 billion for the alternate engine, including a $465 million anonymous earmark in the fiscal year 2010 Defense Appropriations Act.
Barring an unexpected return of this project, taxpayers can claim victory on this issue. However, many other areas of waste exist in the Department of Defense budget. Security spending, defined as money spent on wars, non-war defense, veterans, and homeland security, constitutes nearly two-thirds of all discretionary spending. Since the initiation of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the budget for the DOD has grown exponentially. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has adamantly stated that the Pentagon can safely eliminate non-essential programs, and has proposed $78 billion in savings through fiscal year 2016. This serves as a good starting point for further cuts in the DOD. In fact, Prime Cuts 2010 identified 94 related to the DOD, which would save $24.1 billion in one year and $220.1 billion over five years.
Of course, wasteful spending at the DOD has a long and notorious history, including the $436 hammer, the $640 toilet seat, and 15 pages of instructions on how to bake chocolate chip cookies, which both the Grace Commission and CAGW publicized extensively in the 1980s. It appears CAGW can now add the alternate engine to its list of defense-related victories.