Rep. Tom Rooney (bottom right) will be facing off against senior members of the Armed Services Committee as he attempts to cut funding for an alternate fighter engine.
The big-money lobbying battle over an engine — or two — for a new U.S. fighter jet has enlisted some of the biggest players on K Street. But with the issue poised for a pivotal vote in the House next week, the most influential advocates on either side collect their paychecks from Congress, not big defense contractors.
“The ... contract for the Pratt & Whitney engine is 50 percent over the initial 2001 estimate,” House Armed Services Committee staff member Doug Roach, an expert on the engine subject, wrote in a lengthy e-mail to numerous fellow Hill defense aides and some off-the-Hill contacts. “The Pratt engine will take private sector jobs to Turkey and Poland,” he added in the Jan. 16 e-mail.
Roach was echoing the views of panel Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who both strongly support production of an alternate engine made by General Electric and Rolls-Royce for the new F-35 military aircraft, dubbed the Joint Strike Fighter. Rival contractor Pratt & Whitney is building the bulk of the plane’s engines, and the Pentagon and President Barack Obama have said money for a second engine should be cut.
Rep. Tom Rooney is the leading advocate on Capitol Hill for cutting the GE engine, and he plans to step up his lobbying of his colleagues, many of them freshman lawmakers, over the next few days. The Florida Republican is trying to gin up support for an amendment that he will offer to a larger budget bill as early as Tuesday or Wednesday to strike $450 million in funding for the alternate engine.
But McKeon, Smith and Roach have the support of many Members of Congress, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Rooney, who also sits on Armed Services, has lost this battle before and admits his amendment won’t pass easily.
“For me, this isn’t about GE vs. Pratt or the typical territorial battles,” Rooney said Friday in an interview. “We have been sent to Washington to cut spending. Although it might be nice to have two engines or three or four, we can’t afford it.”
Rooney said he is keeping his message simple and fiscally based. Even though he has characterized the GE engine funding as an “earmark” in years past, he said he is shying away from that this go-around.
“To the new people that might not have time to get into the weeds as I have ... this is a great opportunity to let the American people know it’s not business and lobbying as usual in Washington,” the Congressman added. “We’ve gotten ideas of who’s sort of on the fence, and I’ll go sit with them and talk with them. I’m giving [them] my cell phone to call over the weekend.”
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