Senate Committee Puts Jet Fighter Program on Budget Chopping Block

The Senate is on track to pass a Pentagon spending bill for next year that would swipe at some of the military's prized modernization programs, including a fighter jet being built with U.S. allies.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted unanimously to approve a $453 billion bill defense spending bill that includes $50 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The full Senate has yet to schedule time for debate on the measure. Lawmakers have said they would like to finish the bill before their August recess so the war money is available to troops when they need it.

Senators trimmed President Bush's spending request for weapon systems that were behind schedule. They cut by nearly one-fifth his $5 billion request for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, now under development with the help of Britain.

According to a report accompanying the bill, the committee "strongly supports" that program but believes the technology was premature with testing behind schedule. Therefore, the committee cut more than $1 billion in procurement money for the fighter and recommended delaying production by one year.

"'Buying before flying' is a known problem that can be avoided," the committee said in its report.

The bill mirrors legislation passed last month by the Senate. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., championed a measure included in the defense authorization bill that called for reducing F-35 funds next year by the same amount.

Overall, the bill would fall $9 billion short of Bush's annual spending request to support troops and buy weapons systems.

The White House is expected to object. But Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense, said he did not anticipate the bill would cause problems for the military because the $50 billion in war money could cover any immediate requirement.

Stevens, R-Alaska, said cuts to the Pentagon's spending plan were sprinkled throughout the bill, affecting several programs. The Senate plan would eliminate $200 million in requested money for the KC-135 tanker program, intended to replace aging aircraft refueling tankers.

The Senate panel also voted to trim $250 million from the Army's request of more than $3.5 billion for the Future Combat System, the service's key weapons program.