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Republicans Ready To Cut All But The Pentagon

T: NPR's David Welna has it.

DAVID WELNA: Congress plans to spend just over a trillion dollars in the next fiscal year on all the federal programs it funds. And more than half of that would go to the Department of Defense. So you might think the Pentagon would be a fat target for cutting spending. And when House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon gaveled in a marathon session on defense spending last week, he sounded ready to cut.

R: The 2012 defense bill reflects the fact that members of the Armed Services Committee, the broader Congress and the nation must make tougher choices in order to provide for America's common defense.

WELNA: But Maryland Republican Roscoe Bartlett moved in the committee to revive it.

R: Yes, our country faces major fiscal challenges. However, to continue to fully fund a $1 trillion F-35 aircraft program and not take the opportunity to maintain competition in a $110 billion engine subcontract to the program is not in the long-term best interest of F-35 readiness or the taxpayers.

WELNA: Bartlett said the engine's makers had promised to keep developing it at no cost to taxpayers, as long as they could have free access to the technology which belongs to the Pentagon. The Pentagon vehemently opposes the second engine program. But Chairman McKeon sided with Bartlett.

R: To me, this is a no-brainer.

WELNA: Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper reminded colleagues that the plane has been plagued with problems. He proposed adding just one more than the Pentagon had asked for and saving $380 million.

R: And I would just suggest until the mechanical and engineering difficulties are worked out here, and we - essentially we should fly these before we buy them. Investing before we test them is a highly risky strategy.

WELNA: But Cooper failed to sway Chairman McKeon and the cost-saving measure was resoundingly defeated. Later, I asked Cooper to size up the panel's voting trend.

R: I'm afraid the overall vote boiled down to a vote of no-confidence in the Pentagon. And to have it so widely supported on the committee is pretty amazing.

WELNA: Do you think it reflects a certain reluctance to go along with the austerity plans of the Pentagon?

R: I think it shows the power of lobbying in the Congress.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.