WASHINGTON - Throughout the past year -- perhaps even longer -- the Obama administration and the Pentagon have made a point of showing their eagerness to cut excess fat off the defense budget. One of the primary targets of their fiscal rectitude has been funding for an alternate-engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has advocated killing the program, calling it wasteful and unnecessary. President Obama has threatened to veto it. And at various stages, lawmakers on the Hill have defied them both. In July, for example, the House defense appropriations subcommittee included $485 million in an appropriations bill to keep the engine alive.
This week, the showdown came to a dramatic pitch, but it seems likely that only one side has shown up for the fight. The omnibus spending bill, as Hill aides confirm, now being considered by Congress includes $450 million to keep the alternate-engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter -- a defiance, as has been noted, of the White House's and Pentagon's long-standing objectives.
And yet, instead of registering indignation, the Pentagon has formally endorsed the final package. On Wednesday, Gates put out a statement "strongly" urging Congress to approve the omnibus "rather than requiring that the Department of Defense operate under a year-long continuing resolution."
"To do otherwise would leave the Department without the resources and flexibility needed to meet vital military requirements," Gates said.
The Obama administration has also reportedly told Congress to pass the bill.