The Senate today voted 58 to 40 to approve a Levin (D-MI) – McCain (R-AZ) amendment to eliminate $1.75 billion for seven F-22s that was added by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The vote was significant because if those supporting more aircraft had prevailed even though the plane has no utility in Iraq or Afghanistan, is egregiously expensive, is strenuously opposed by Secretary of Defense Gates, and elicited a veto threat from President Obama, it would have been widely interpreted by the media as a crushing defeat for the Obama administration.
The administration is already facing great challenges over the still faltering economy and difficult bills dealing with health care legislation and climate change.
The F-22 vote was also significant because it provided an opportunity for DOD and Armed Services Committee chairman Levin to rev up their vote counting operations. They set up procedures to count noses, persuade the undecideds, and win over those who started out supporting the F-22.
This vote counting operation, co-operated with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), will be vital when the Senate gets to later votes on a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) follow-on agreement and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
The administration has already proved adept at winning close Senate votes on the economic stimulus package and the children’s health care bill. Now it has proved adept in the first significant national security test in the Senate.
The F-22 battle is a long way from over. The House approved funds in its authorization bill and congressional appropriators look sympathetic to the F-22.
Nevertheless, this victory is important both for the Obama administration and for those interested in winning Senate approval for arms control treaties in the near future.