WASHINGTON — The House today voted to stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars on an alternate engine for the military’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The main engine is partially built at a Pratt & Whitney plant in North Berwick.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st, joined a bipartisan group of House members at a Capitol Hill news conference on Tuesday aimed at building support for axing the alternate engine, a move the lawmakers say ultimately would save $3 billion.

Most immediately, they succeeded this afternoon in passing an amendment to a broader spending bill. The amendment eliminated this year’s $450 million allocation for the second engine.

The amendment to strike the money passed by a bipartisan 233-198 vote, over the objections of GOP House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, whose district is near a plant where work is carried out on the second engine.

“I’m glad that Democrats and Republicans got together to end funding for the second engine for the F-35 – it was wasteful, unnecessary and practically no one in the military wanted it,” Pingree said. “The vote today was a victory for common sense.”

House GOP leaders hope to pass the overall bill, which approved federal spending through the Sept. 30 end of the current fiscal year, later this week. But the Democratic-led Senate likely will make changes, and the alternate engine could yet retain its funding.

A Pratt & Whitney spokesman said about 100 workers currently work on the main engine program today at the North Berwick plant, out of a total of about 1,300 workers there, but that would ramp up to more than 500 manufacturing and engineering jobs when the engine is in full production.

If proponents of the alternate engine succeed in their push to build a second engine at an equal production rate, some of those North Berwick jobs would be lost, according to Pratt & Whitney.

The North Berwick plant manufactures a half-dozen types of main engine parts, including outer air seals and low pressure turbine blades, according to Pratt & Whitney.

But Pingree says this isn’t about protecting jobs in Maine. That already was decided, she said, when Pratt & Whitney won the competition to build the main engine, and when the Bush administration and now the Obama administration, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, said work on the alternate engine no longer needs to proceed.

But the alternate engine, which is being built by General Electric and Rolls Royce, has had powerful backers. Among them is Boehner, whose district is near a Cincinnati-area General Electric Aviation plant helping build the alternate engine.

Attempts have been made to cut funding for the alternate engine for several years without success, but those who want to make the cut say they hope to take advantage of the focus this year on cutting federal spending and bringing down the deficit.

Proponents of maintaining the alternate engine program say the competition could ultimately create savings, and that it is safer for national security to have a backup engine.

Boehner told reporters this week that, “As you all know that I believe that over the next 10 years that this will save the government money.”

Opponents note that the Pentagon itself says the second engine no longer is needed, and point out that nearly all U.S. military aircraft rely on just a single source engine.

Pingree said about 40 percent of the alternate engine would be built in the United Kingdom, in any case. She noted that earlier in her House career, she voted to end funding directed to the F-22 fighter – built by none other than Pratt & Whitney.

“We need to find cuts where we can,” Pingree said.

GOP Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida took the lead on the amendment to strike the alternate engine funding. He credited House GOP leaders with allowing a vote on the issue despite Boehner’s opposition.

But he called the argument by Boehner and other backers of the alternate engine that competition will yield savings a bogus one.

“Competition does not mean buying two of everything,” Rooney said. “If that were the case, every aircraft would have multiple source engines.”

Rooney’s state, too, is home to a Pratt & Whitney plant, a testing facility in Palm Beach County, though that is outside his district.

But Rooney also says parochial loyalty isn’t why he is pushing for the elimination of the alternate engine. He calls it a “luxury our country simply cannot afford.”

Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected]