House strikes F-22, passes defense bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives killed new funding on Thursday for the disputed F-22 fighter jet program as part of a $636.3 billion military spending bill that preserved funding for a new presidential helicopter and another program the White House opposes.

House action to bury additional production of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-22 solidified an important victory for the Obama administration on procurement reform and nullified a certain veto by President Barack Obama on that issue.

But the House did not back away from the helicopter and a second thorny funding issue that prompted a renewed threat from the White House to reject the massive appropriations bill for fiscal 2010 unless those provisions are removed.

The new fiscal year begins October 1.

The House included $485 million for VH-71 helicopters made by Lockheed and $560 million for an alternative engine for the F-22 successor, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, another Lockheed program. General Electric Co and Rolls-Royce Group Plc have worked on developing an alternate engine.

The Senate has yet to act on its final defense bill for fiscal 2010, but a $680 billion first draft approved last week did not include helicopter funding and stripped money for new F-22s and the alternate engine.

Senators are due to complete action on the bill when they return from vacation in September. Following that, negotiators from both chambers will have to reconcile any differences before sending a bill to Obama.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs restated on Thursday an earlier threat that Obama’s top advisers would recommend he veto any spending measure that includes money for the F-35 alternate engine and the helicopter.

The White House and Pentagon consider spending on new F-22s, the VH-71 and the second engine wasteful.

The House defense bill would have authorized a $369 million down payment on production for a dozen new F-22s. But Representative John Murtha, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on defense and an F-22 supporter, reversed course amid eroding support for continuing the program.

His amendment to redirect F-22 funding to other programs was approved 269-165. A procedural attempt to revive the money for the F-22 was defeated before the chamber approved the entire bill 400-30.

Reporting by John Crawley, editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Andre Grenon