Hollow Threat

Just last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was not yet ready to invoke a “veto threat” over the addition of 12 F-22 Raptors in the House Armed Services Committee’s version of the 2010 defense authorization bill. Now, it appears he is ready. A just-released statement of administration policy on H.R. 2647 states the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto if the final bill still contains funds to take the F-22 program of record beyond 187 aircraft. Last week, Rep. Neil Abercrombie, chairman of the committee’s air and land forces panel, said he believes the full House will find money for 20 additional Raptors in 2010. Talking with defense reporters in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning, the head of the House defense appropriations panel, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), also lent his weight to the notion that Congress will approve buying more Raptors (see below). Saying it wouldn’t be easy, Murtha pulled a list from an inside coat pocket that he would not share because it constituted “personal conversation” between himself and Gates, but which he said was a list of program decisions that Gates’ considers “not negotiable,” and from Murtha’s subsequent remarks, we concluded the F-22 is on that list. However, the SAP and Gates’ notional list are the not the last word. In Abercrombie’s view, “The President is much too shrewd [not to realize] … that, should a veto come over adding a few planes into the defense budget, that that wouldn’t be overridden in a nanosecond?” He added that a veto threat is “not a productive way to go about having this conversation.”