White House issues veto threats over spending bill

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

WASHINGTON -- The White House threatened Tuesday to veto a $636 billion spending bill for the Pentagon, citing funding for F-22 fighters and a replacement presidential helicopter. President Obama wants to terminate both programs.

The measure is slated to come to the House floor today. The White House also objected to plans by lawmakers to continue to fund an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but didn't seem to explicitly threaten a veto over the $560 million provision.

The veto threats come as the White House and its Democratic allies in control of Congress debate weapons programs and other Pentagon procurement.

The administration is carrying the day on ceasing production of additional F-22s after a vote in the Senate last week during debate on a defense policy bill. It also won a Senate vote against production of a second engine for alternative engines for the next-generation F-35 fighter.

The new presidential helicopter program is over budget and the White House opposes $400 million in the House measure that's a down payment toward finishing five of the troubled aircraft.

The White House says finishing the five helicopters would cost more than $2 billion more.

Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have staked out positions against continuing the F-22 program, which is over budget and which has been criticized for being ill-suited for 21st century wars. It is an air-to-air dogfighter poorly-equipped to take on ground targets and hasn't flown over Iraq and Afghanistan.

The three programs are the highest-profile in an ongoing campaign by Gates to change the way the Pentagon does business. In his sights are unnecessary or financially troubled weapons that siphon money away from the troops and gear required for irregular wars now being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The defense committees of Congress have been reluctant to go along, but the administration is reaching out to Democratic loyalists to win floor votes.

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