On a day when the press is savaging President Obama for offering paltry budget cuts while debt — “a new red menace,” as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels put it — threatens to cripple Americans’ standard of living, there exists a parallel universe where Obama is out-cutting House Speaker John Boehner.
On one issue, Obama is attacking government “waste” with bipartisan support in the House, and Boehner is supporting spending opposed even by the federal agency that would get the money.
The issue is an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter plane. The F-35 already has one engine that works, but advocates say hiring two companies to produce engines will force them to compete with one another, driving long-term cost reductions.
Boehner and other key lawmakers also support the funding because of jobs created by the engine’s manufacture in Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts and Virginia.
Obama, former President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have all opposed the second engine.
“It’s not often we have an agency tell us that money we’re giving them to spend is wasteful,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia Republican.
“This is the poster child for wasteful spending,” said Rep. John Larson, Connecticut Democrat, noting that the left-wing Center for American Progress and the conservative spending watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste both oppose the second engine.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said the second engine is “supported by a bipartisan majority in Congress because — according to the non-partisan GAO — it will lower taxpayer costs in the long term.”
The GAO report Steel cited says the program “could, in the long run, reduce costs and bring other benefits.”
In the meantime, it will cost $3 billion to implement.
A bipartisan delegation opposing the second engine, which would save $435 million through the rest of fiscal year 2011, is hoping to galvanize opposition to the spending among freshmen Republicans.
Their amendment could be voted on as early as Tuesday.
One hurdle is a powerful lobbying operation by the engine’s manufacturers, General Electric and Rolls Royce.
The second engine, said Rep. Chellie Pingree, Maine Democrat, is “nothing more than a giveaway to a big defense contractor” and warned of the influence of a deep-pocketed lobbying operation to protect the millions in government spending.