WASHINGTON – Massachusetts lawmakers, over the fierce objections of the White House, have succeeded in reviving a costly plan to build a jet fighter engine at General Electric’s Lynn plant in an effort to protect thousands of Bay State jobs.
When President Obama urged Congress earlier this year to cancel a series of major weapons programs deemed no longer needed, he specifically cited the effort to build a backup engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
“We’re going to save money by eliminating unnecessary defense programs that do nothing to keep us safe – but rather prevent us from spending money on what does keep us safe,’’ Obama said in May. “One example is a $465 million program to build an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. The engine it has works. The Pentagon does not want – and does not plan to use – the alternate version.’’
But while Congress was ultimately persuaded to adopt most of Obama’s proposed weapons cuts – including canceling the F-22 fighter program – the GE program was rescued with the aid of several Massachusetts lawmakers who lobbied behind the scenes. It marked the fourth year in a row that Bay State lawmakers joined other lawmakers with GE jobs in their states to save the project from the Pentagon’s budget ax.
Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said that GE officials had told his office that 1,000 jobs in Massachusetts will be saved or maintained once full production begins on the backup engine.
“There will also be some jobs gained, but maintaining jobs right now is very important,’’ he said yesterday, defending his efforts to persuade fellow lawmakers, including the highly influential Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, to overturn Obama’s proposal in a final vote on Saturday.
Inouye chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, while Murtha oversees a House panel with jurisdiction over defense spending.
Kerry also used his influence with the White House to get it to back off a threatened presidential veto. He told the Globe that he ultimately got assurances from Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, that the president would not veto the fiscal year 2010 defense appropriations bill if the money for the engine was included. Obama signed the bill, which totals $626 billion, on Monday.