VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Loses Critical Support

 - November 5, 2009, 10:55 AM

Not unlike the way the Philadelphia Phillies’ chances of winning this year’s World Series decreased substantially on Sunday when they lost game four to the New York Yankees, the Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland VH-71 presidential helicopter’s chances of receiving funding in this year’s defense appropriations bill diminished considerably yesterday when Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.) apparently removed his support of the program. Murtha’s viewpoint counts because he is chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee and the House and Senate are in the final stages of ironing out the differences between their two versions of the defense appropriations bill. The House’s version contains $400 million to continue development of the VH-71 Increment 1 program, and with an additional $4 billion or so, put five VH-71s in the President’s helicopter fleet in the next few years. The Senate’s version does not.

President Obama has said he’s happy with the Sikorsky VH-3D helicopters the fleet has now. Official statements from the White House have indicated that “if the final bill were to include funds that continue the existing VH-71 program…the President’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.” The threat of that possible veto has apparently become more intense this month, particularly after the House and Senate sent the defense authorization bill to the President without including funding for the program. The President signed this bill on October 28.

Murtha was, and presumably still is, in favor of a VH-71 Increment 1 solution, but he apparently succumbed to recent pressure from the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to withdraw his support. Regarding his change of mind, Murtha explained that while he thought there could be enough votes in Congress to overcome a veto, “We are not going to embarrass the President.”

When it became obvious that the 2010 defense appropriations would not get passed before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, Congress passed a continuing resolution to keep the defense department funded. While the conference committee has informally negotiated the bill, according to Murtha, and it could be brought up for a vote within a week. Congress could pass the final bill before Thanksgiving, but it might get delayed until December.