Mansfield Journal News: Lawmakers vow to fight for engine funding

March 28, 2011 | Portman Difference

In the wake of a House vote to cut funding for the Joint Strike Fighter's alternate engine, being built in Ohio, Ohio Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown and Rep. Steve Chabot vowed to work to restore the cut.

But House Speaker John Boehner declined to say whether he'd exert his own pressure to restore the funding.

"I am committed to the House working its will," Boehner told reporters at his weekly news conference.

Asked how he'll explain the House's vote to cut jobs in his home state, Boehner bristled, saying: "Listen, the House voted. It wasn't about me imposing my will on the House. The House members spoke. This is a legislative process that's going to continue. I can't predict what the Senate will or won't do."

The GE-Aviation plant in Evendale is in Chabot's district.

"Although the measure ultimately failed in the House, Congressman Chabot plans to continue the fight to restore the program in the Senate," said his spokesman, Jamie Schwartz.

Portman, of Terrace Park, and Brown, a Mansfield native, said they'd work to restore funding once the spending bill reaches the Senate. It was expected to pass the House late Thursday night or early Friday morning.

"I'm going to continue to fight for it because I think it's the right thing," Portman told reporters Thursday. "Not only because it represents jobs in Ohio ... but it's the right thing for the taxpayers and the right thing for the military."

Portman pointed to a General Accountability Office report that says allowing competition between the alternate engine and main engine would result in a savings of up to 11 percent, which would recoup the additional investment needed to see the engine through to completion.

Portman is monitoring the House bill and plans to determine the best way to restore funding once the Senate begins consideration on the matter.

Brown, a new member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, plans to use his position to influence fellow senators on the issue. He called the House vote against the funding "a vote against competition and long-term savings."

"The competitive engine is good for our military and the productive work force in Southwest Ohio. I will continue to work on a bipartisan basis with my Senate colleagues and members of the Ohio delegation to maintain funding for Evendale and this critical program.

Meanwhile, Gary Jordan, president of United Aerospace Workers Local 647, the largest union at GE's Evendale complex, said after spending three days lobbying lawmakers in Washington on the issue last week that he's optimistic GE can turn the vote around in the Senate.

"There are fewer members in the Senate, and they're older and understand what the GAO is saying about long-term savings from a competitive engine program," he said.

Jordan said GE and the UAW and Machinists are planning a major lobbying effort when the Senate comes back in session after the Presidents Day break. That's when the Senate is expected to consider the spending measure.

"If you reflect over the last 14 years of development for the JSF fighter engine, the government has spent $3 billion already. In the next 18 months, the engine will be fully developed. By ending funding now, you're essentially throwing $3 billion down the drain," he said.

The engine's development supports about 1,000 local jobs. If funding isn't restored in the Senate, the program could end as early as March 4.

Jordan said a loss of federal funding could lead to some hourly job losses, but the impact will probably be much larger on GE's engineering staff.

"The big impact on us will be the (lost) opportunity for (job) growth in the future" as the development program goes into full production, he said.