It probably won’t mean much in the long run, but the Senate voted today to approve an amendment by Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), long-time opponent of the F-136, to strip $438.9 million for the second F-35 engine.
It will be difficult to prove, but I bet this was one of those trades that were worked out before the vote to kill the F-22. Sen. John McCain supported Lieberman’s amendment and it was approved by voice vote — not a roll call vote, which would have left a very clear trail for everyone to follow. While this may be portrayed as another victory for the Obama administration, which has threatened to veto the defense authorization bill should it include the F-136 funding, I think the Obama administration’s position is secondary to any deals that were worked out before the F-22 vote.
The amendment would hold up the funding until the defense secretary tells Congress that building the F-136 would lead to lower program costs, improve the planes’ readiness and not disrupt the program’s development or result in fewer fighters.
McCain and Lieberman are very close and work together almost as well as the Arizona senator worked with the recently departed John Warner of Virginia. And McCain led the fight against the F-22, which Lieberman supported mightily.
The reason I think this probably won’t amount to much is that it was approved by voice vote and the House Armed Services Committee negotiators will note this during the conference discussions. Also, the appropriators are almost certain to include money for the F-136 program in their bill. Unless some deals we don’t know about yet were worked out during the authorization vote.
President Obama had threatened to veto the bill over the provision authorizing $439 million for the backup engine if he believes it would “seriously disrupt” the overall program.