Defense bill comes at a price for taxpayers

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President Obama won most of his spending fights with Congress over the Defense Department this year, but it cost several billion dollars of taxpayers’ money to buy legislative peace.

The $636 billion defense spending bill that Mr. Obama signed into law Monday fully funds his plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but Congress added $465 million for an alternate F-35 engine that the Pentagon says it doesn’t need or want.

Mr. Obama had requested $6.8 billion for the F-35 program and didn’t want any of that going to develop the second engine, which has been a priority for some lawmakers. Adding the extra money was a way for Congress to avoid a showdown.

“There’s nothing that rises to the level of a veto for this bill. There are no red lines to be crossed,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

Congress also included $2.5 billion for 10 more C-17 transport planes, which the Pentagon says are unnecessary, but which lawmakers said will help maintain the Air Force’s strategic-airlift capabilities.

Still, the bill has clear victories for Mr. Obama: It ramps down funding for a new presidential helicopter, which Mr. Obama canceled earlier this year and gives in to his demand that the F-22 Raptor plane be ended.

Mr. Obama signed the bill in private, and the public was notified through a statement from the White House press secretary.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who voted against the bill, said he wished the president had vetoed it because of the more than 1,700 pork-barrel spending projects that cost a total of $4.2 billion.

“The president promised me he would veto bills, he wouldn’t stand for any more of this pork-barrel spending,” said Mr. McCain, who ran against Mr. Obama in last year’s campaign, but has since been looking for areas to team up with the president.

Mr. McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is against the extra F-35 engine.

The F-35 is expected to be an affordable workhorse strike aircraft for the Navy, Air Force and Marines, as well as U.S. allies.

The president this summer had threatened to veto the spending bill if Congress had siphoned off F-35 money to pay for continuing the second engine program. The administration had said that would disrupt the main F-35 program.

Instead of cutting, Congress added the $465 million.

“The conferees funded the engine without cutting funds from the existing program/request — therefore, not ‘disrupting’ the program,” a House aide said.

Mr. Morrell at the Pentagon said that the compromise works, but that officials will have to examine where the $465 million came from.

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