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Politics

U.S. Senate keeps alive funding for C-17 cargo planes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on Wednesday kept alive funding for 10 Boeing-made C-17 cargo planes that the Pentagon has said it does not want.

By a vote of 64 to 34, the Senate rejected an effort to strip out $2.5 billion for the cargo planes from its $636 billion defense spending bill.

The House of Representatives has approved money for three of the planes in its version of the bill, which funds Pentagon operations for the fiscal year that starts on Thursday.

Congress and the White House have skirmished over several weapons systems that the Pentagon wants to discontinue.

Lawmakers sought to continue funding for the F-22 fighter and an alternate engine for the F-35 fighter, but backed down after a veto threat by President Barack Obama.

However, they stood firm on the C-17, which is manufactured in 43 U.S. states.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the Pentagon has all of the C-17s it needs and that buying more could take money from areas needed to maintain combat readiness.

Republican Senator John McCain, the measure’s sponsor, argued that his fellow lawmakers had taken money from the Pentagon’s logistics and operations budget to satisfy a politically powerful defense contractor.

“You can’t walk through these hallways without bumping into a lobbyist from Boeing,” said McCain, who campaigned against wasteful spending in his failed 2008 presidential bid.

But other lawmakers said that terminating the C-17 program would cost more in the long run because the Pentagon would have to maintain older transport planes. It would also be expensive to ramp up the idled production line if the Air Force decided it wanted more planes in the future, they said.

Others said it risked eroding the country’s manufacturing base and throwing more people out of work during the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.

Obama has not threatened to veto the bill in its current form.

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