Obama wins spending battle over F-22

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President Obama had his biggest spending cuts win Thursday, going toe-to-toe with Congress’s biggest defense spenders and forcing them to stop funding an Air Force fighter jet the Pentagon says it doesn’t need.

But the White House remained cautious about claiming victory as it vets more than 1,000 pork-projects in the $636 billion spending bill for the Pentagon.

The administration had called the battle over the F-22 Raptor the first test of whether Mr. Obama can cajole Congress into controlling spending, and the president’s threat to veto any bill that funded the jet was decisive in forcing Democrats on Thursday to remove $369 million that had been designed to keep the jet in production.

Rep. John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who oversees defense spending and who just two weeks ago predicted Mr. Obama would back down, conceded defeat on the House floor, saying the “political climate has changed substantially” for appropriators. He said Mr. Obama’s threatened veto was insurmountable.

“The problem is we’d need 292 votes in the House. The president is hard over on this issue. We’d need [67] votes in the Senate. And there’s no chance of us getting that kind of vote,” he said.

The White House declared the battle over the F-22 the first actual test of whether Mr. Obama can persuade Congress to rein in runaway spending. Thursday’s vote removed $369 million that had been designated to keep the jet in production.

Mr. Obama is trying to avoid the fate of the previous administration.

Polls show Republicans’ fiscal responsibility brand identity collapsed as they and President George W. Bush allowed spending to grow dramatically, punctuated with embarrassing expenses such as the eventually stopped “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska.

Recent polling suggests Democrats are now suffering the same slide. A new Wall Street Journal survey says Republicans now lead by nine percentage points when Americans are asked who would do a better job of handling the federal deficit - a giant shift from the 16-point advantage Democrats held in 2007.

After voting to cut the F-22 funding, the House approved the overall $636.6 billion fiscal 2010 defense spending bill, but not before turning back each of nearly a dozen attempts to cut pork-barrel programs from the 1,102 earmark projects in the bill.

“As the president has said, he will veto the final bill if it includes certain unnecessary military acquisitions,” said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor. “The president has asked for a review of the House bill, including the earmarks that were included in it.”

The White House did note that earmarks are down from previous years.

“We knew from the start that changing the old ways of Washington would not happen overnight but remain committed to rigorous accountability and transparency and a return to fiscal discipline,” Mr. Vietor said.

One potential fight could be brewing over funding for an alternative engine for the F-35. The House bill included money for a second engine program, but the administration has said Mr. Obama would consider vetoing any bill that “would seriously disrupt the F-35 program.”

The F-35 is the plane the administration says will supersede the need for more F-22s.

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