In a surprising victory for common sense over lobbying by major defense contractor General Electric, the House of Representatives on February 16 scrapped funding for an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter backup engine the Pentagon doesn't want. The amendment to the continuing resolution on defense funding for the current fiscal year passed on an unusual bipartisan vote; 123 Democrats and 110 Republicans voted to kill the $450 million appropriation, while 130 Republicans and 68 Democrats voted to keep money for the jet engine in the bill (roll call). Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) was the only member of the Iowa House delegation to vote for ending the funding. He should cite this vote as evidence that he is serious about tackling government waste. Democrats Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) all voted against the amendment. They should explain why they want to spend $450 million this fiscal year to continue a program that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called "a waste of nearly $3 billion."
Loebsack serves on the House Armed Services Committee. Boswell used to serve on that committee but no longer does in the new Congress.
In other Congressional news, the U.S. Senate approved a three-month extension for controversial PATRIOT Act provisions on February 15 by a vote of 86 to 12. Senator Chuck Grassley voted yes, as did all but two of his Republican colleagues. Senator Tom Harkin was among ten members of the Democratic caucus to vote no (roll call). Harkin's office did not issue a statement on this vote and did not respond to my request for comment, so I don't know whether he is against all efforts to extend those controversial PATRIOT Act provisions, or whether he would support Senator Pat Leahy's bill to extend the provisions through 2013 with "additional safeguards to the act which would provide for increased oversight of U.S. Intelligence gathering tools." Grassley has introduced a rival Senate bill that would permanently extend the government surveillance powers.