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Jets Grounded in Senate Spending Bill

The Senate has taken up a Defense appropriations bill that would eliminate $133 million for two Gulfstream passenger jets that the House approved and wanted the Air Force to station at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to carry Members of Congress, military brass and other dignitaries.

At the end of July, the House approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for the Air Force. The Air Force had asked for $66 million to buy one Gulfstream 550 — a 12-seat executive jet — as part of an ongoing upgrade of its passenger air service. According to a 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service, the military maintains about 374 airplanes as “Operational Support Airlift,— which provide mostly VIP transportation service.

But the House Appropriations Committee, at its own initiative, added to the 2010 Defense appropriations bill another $133 million for two more airplanes and specified that they be assigned to the D.C.-area units that carry Members of Congress, military brass and top government officials.

The House bill also sought two more 737s than the military was requesting for its passenger service, at a cost of $200 million.

A public outcry ensued after Roll Call reported on the Gulfstreams in August, and House leaders announced that they would be willing to cut the extra airplanes from the bill.

The 2010 Defense appropriations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month and now pending on the Senate floor strikes the excess funding for the passenger aircraft and returns to the original Pentagon request for upgrades to the fleet: $66 million for Gulfstreams and $154 million for 737s, for a total cut of $333 million from the measure approved by the House.

Votes on the bill will not occur until next week.

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