Opponents of the B-2 Stealth bomber face a fight with the Senate and the White House over the costly plane, as they savor an overwhelming victory in a House panel.
"This is early in the game," Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, said Tuesday after the Armed Services procurement subcommittee voted 15-4 against buying four more of the $800 million-per-copy aircraft. "It's a momentum builder. It helps us."The full Armed Services Committee later Wednesday was expected to accept the panel's decision when it put together a $291 billion defense budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
The administration and Northrop Corp., the manufacturer, had waged an intense lobbying campaign for the radar-evading plane. President Bush personally contacted some lawmakers and the company hired a public relations firm to manage a grassroots effort.
Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., the Armed Services Committee chairman, is leading the effort to stop the B-2 program at the 15 planes already in production, citing the high cost as a reason. The Air Force eventually wants to buy 75 planes.
Three Republicans and one Democrat voted with the administration in the closed-door subcommittee meeting.
"The White House lobbyists thought it would be closer. I'm shocked," said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who voted against the plane.
Both opponents and proponents of the B-2 were looking toward a clash with the Senate and the administration to decide the issue.
"It will be a big fight with the Senate," Kasich said.
Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who led the effort for the plane in the subcommittee, said his hopes rested with the conference later this year with the Senate, which has backed the aircraft in the past.
"Everyone is looking to the end results. The majority feels that something will be worked out in conference," said Skelton, who said Bush eventually must weigh in with a veto threat if Congress votes to stop the B-2 program.
Skelton proposed including $3.2 billion in fiscal 1992 for the four planes by making an across-the-board cut of 5.25 percent in all other weapons procurement.
Despite that setback, the Armed Services subcommittee on research and development did approve the administration's request for $1.6 billion to continue testing on the B-2 bomber.