The Senate Tuesday voted to stop production on the F-22 fighter jets, after President Obama and his administration lobbied the Hill to do away with the jets in favor of spending on joint F-35 jets, despite complaints from lawmakers that the end of the F-22's could cause loss of jobs for many in their home states that are in defense contracting.
"I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on outdated and unnecessary defense projects to keep this nation secure," Obama said in a Rose Garden event at the White House. "That's why I've taken steps to greatly reduce no-bid defense contracts. That's why I've signed overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation to limit cost overruns on weapons systems before they spiral out of control. And that's why I'm grateful that the Senate just voted against an additional $1.75 billion to buy F-22 fighter jets that military experts and members of both parties say we do not need. "
The Rose Garden event, billed as remarks pertaining to the troubled health care legislation on the Hill, was a rare opportunity this month for Obama to claim a Hill victory.
A key vote in the Senate on the F-22 legislation came from someone perhaps unexpected by the Obama White House, Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain, the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services committee joined with committee Chairman Carl Levin in voting to terminate the funding for the F-22. McCain had been opposed to continuing funding for the F-22, citing former President Eisenhower's warning about becoming an outdated military.
A member of McCain's own party, who did not vote with the Arizona senator, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, cried foul over the plan to kill the F-22, saying the cost for the F-22 is less than the F-35. "To come in here with a straight face and say we're going to save taxpayers money by moving to the F-35 and then turn and say we're going to pay $200 million a copy in this bill for F-35's? Something about that just doesn't add up," said Chambliss on the Senate floor. Chambliss has a direct interest in both planes, as Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-22 and the F-35 has a F-22 plant in Marietta Georgia which employs about 2,000 people. That plant would not necessarily transition into building F-35's, despite suggestions from Levin that might happen.
The F-22 fighter jet, used mostly in ‘dogfight' situations, can cost anywhere between $140 million to $350 million to make. While the F-35 could cost as much as $200 million per plane according to the new Defense Authorization Bill, the Defense Department is eager to use the F-35 because it is a joint fighter, meaning it can be used by all branches of the military. Senators voting in favor of the F-22 said even if everyone can use the F-35, the costs still don't make it worthwhile.
For their part, the White House had been reminding Senators of both parties of not only Obama's opposition to the F-22 but also of Gates' aversion to the jet. At the White House on Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that it's not just Gates who said the fighter jets aren't needed, it was also former Defense Secretaries and Former Joint Chiefs of Staff who agreed with Obama. "This is $1.75 billion for a plane that our Pentagon and the previous Pentagon say they don't need; say that spending for that aircraft, those additional aircraft, come in direct competition with the resources that our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are in need of now," Gibbs said. "And we're right now in a neck-and-neck battle just to cut $1.75 billion for a plane the Pentagon itself says it doesn't want."
On Tuesday, Gibbs hailed the vote and said the President was directly involved in making sure the F-22 did not get funded.
"The president was clear. He made phone calls, even in the Oval Office this morning to lawmakers. Staff as well as Secretary Gates very involved in this effort," Gibbs said. "I think the strong bipartisan vote today shows clearly that the president's position is supported strongly in the Senate. And he will not accept money for a weapons system that we don't need to be in the final DOD authorization bill."
President Obama had threatened to veto the bill if it had given more money to the F-22 program, which would have been his first veto.
The fight over the F-22 is not over, the bill now goes back to conference, as the House had already passed the Defense Authorization bill with money for the F-22's.
** Fox News National Security Correspondent Jennifer Griffin contributed to this story **