From NBC's Michael Isikoff
The surprise House vote today to kill $450 million to build a alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter was a big victory for an unlikely alliance that included the Obama administration and Tea Party Republicans determined to slash spending across the board, including the military budget.
But it was also a setback for House GOP leaders, including Speaker John Boehner, who HAS fought hard to save the project over the years.
No budget item has been more heavily lobbied in recent weeks, with GE spending millions running full-page newspaper ads and hiring big-gun lobbyists, including Dick Gephart, Trent Lott and John Breaux. But a rebellion by freshman Republicans -- such as Tim Griffin of Arkansas -- swelled the ranks of opponents who argued that the country can't afford to pay another $3 billion over the next few years to build two engines for the same airplane. The final vote was 233-198 to eliminate the project. (General Electric is a minority owner of NBC Universal.)
In effect, they contended, the GE alternative engine was simply a thinly disguised earmark and a classic example of pork-barrel spending. GE (and Rolls Royce) are partners in the project to develop the alternate or back up engine to the primary one being built by Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut.
One of the biggest backers of the project: House Speaker John Boehner, whose district is just outside the main GE plant where the alternate engine is being built. (Boehner even cut a YouTube video last year extolling the virtues of the project. He reiterated his support for the GE engine just this week, but told reporters he would let the House "work its will" by having an up or down vote. As Speaker, he also did not personally vote on today's amendment.) Another strong supporter: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, whose district includes a Rolls Royce plant. Click here to see the roll call vote.
*** UPDATE *** Boehner's office sends along the following exchange with reporters yesterday:
REPORTER: “Mr. Speaker, will the Republican leadership join Lynn Westmoreland in proposing to get rid of the money in the current Continuing Resolution for the F-35 extra engine?”
BOEHNER: “I suspect there will be a healthy debate on that big question. As you all know that I believe that over the next ten years that this will save the government money. But let’s have the policy debate out in the open on the House floor and let the House work its will.”