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Murtha Willing to Strike New Planes From Defense Bill

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said Monday evening he would be willing to eliminate from the 2010 Defense spending bill tens of millions of dollars for new passenger jets that have already been approved by the House.

Roll Call reported last week that the House had approved a Defense spending bill with $200 million for three Gulfstream executive jets for the Air Force’s VIP travel operation, which transports top government officials, including Members of Congress. The Air Force had only requested one of those planes; the Appropriations Committee added two more and specified they would be stationed at Andrews Air Force base.

Similarly, the bill included funding for five 737 passenger aircraft; the Air Force had only asked for three. Each 737 costs about $100 million according to Murtha's office, while each Gulfstream costs about $65 million.

Last week, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that the Pentagon only needs the items that it requests, and that additional airplanes come at additional cost to the military, including the costs of maintaining and staffing the planes.

In a statement issued Monday, Murtha said: “These aircraft will not increase the overall passenger aircraft fleet, but instead will replace older aircraft that have both safety and maintenance issues. In addition, these newer model aircraft cost significantly less to operate than the current aircraft.”

Murtha disputed the impression that Congress was buying additional planes for its own use.

“Over the last five years, 85 percent of the use of these planes has been by the Executive Branch,” he said.

Appropriations committee staffers have indicated that the 85 percent number refers to the entire fleet of Air Force passenger aircraft; it is not clear whether the aircraft based at Andrews have a higher rate of Congressional use.

Nevertheless, Murtha said, “If the Department of Defense does not want these aircraft, they will be eliminated from the bill.”

The Senate has not yet taken up the Defense appropriations bill, but several Senators have said it is unlikely the money for the additional aircraft will pass given the public outcry that has ensued.

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