Tuesday February 15, 2011 | 01:31 PM

If members of Congress are looking for common sense ways to save taxpayer dollars, they should look no further than axing a planned alternate engine for the military’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, says Rep. Chellie Pingree.

Pingree, D-1st, joined a bipartisan group of House members at a Capitol Hill news conference this morning aimed at building support for eliminating the engine – and $3 billion slated to be spent on its completion.
 
Most immediately, the lawmakers want to use the pending bill providing spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, to strike from the military’s budget the $450 million that is to be spent on the alternate engine this year.
 
It’s no coincidence that Pingree is on the issue. Her district is home to a Pratt & Whitney plant in North Berwick where hundreds of workers are engaged in helping build the F-35’s main engine. About 1,400 Mainers work at that plant in all, though not all of them work on the F-35 engine.
 
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 powerful backers. Among them is House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, whose district is near a Cincinnati-area GE plant helping build the alternate 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, calling a second engine for the F-35 “unnecessary and wasteful” and a “giveaway to a big defense contractor” that doesn’t aid in the national defense.
 
GOP Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida is taking the lead on the amendment to strike the alternate engine funding from this year’s budget. He credited House GOP leaders with allowing a vote on the issue despite Boehner’s opposition, and said that vote could take place as early as today.
Rooney’s state, too, is home to a Pratt & Whitney plant, a testing facility in Palm Beach County.
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.”
 
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.
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.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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