The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved more funding for the F-22 fighter jet, setting Congress on a collision course with the White House—which, as I reported last week, has threatened to issue its first veto if the F-22 money remains in the legislation that reaches Obama’s desk. Both the committee’s chairman (Carl Levin) and its ranking Republican (John McCain) opposed buying more planes, but were overruled in a 13-11 vote.
The Senate did, to its credit, hold the line on Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposed cuts to the missile defense program, although at $1.2 billion these were one of the smaller reductions on the table. (Missile defense boosters will likely offer amendments to restore the money.) But the F-22 addition is particularly bad, for two reasons. First, while the House squeezed $369 million into the defense authorization bill just to keep the production line open, Senate Armed Services has expanded the defense budget by $1.75 billion. This is ostensibly enough to fund more seven planes in full, although in reality they cost far more. And second, it’s become apparent that the few backers of the Gates budget in Congress don’t have a whole lot of leverage. Barney Frank failed to get an amendment removing F-22 funds to the House floor. And if McCain and Levin couldn’t convince a couple more colleagues on Armed Services to nix the F-22, their chances of winning over the full Senate (where there are already 44 known fans of the plane) seem pretty bleak.