By Emelie Rutherford

A senior senator said yesterday Congress likely will not approve monies for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s alternate engine this year, admitting his only hope for the program is partial funding next year.

Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a longtime supporter of the F-35 backup engine developed by General Electric [GE] and Rolls-Royce, said he does not see any way his congressional colleagues will support the controversial program in fiscal year 2011, which started last October, as lawmakers fight over how and whether to pass a long-delayed defense appropriations bill.

“There are no more votes; everyone’s against it,” Inouye told Defense Daily at the Capitol.

The SAC did not fund the second engine on March 4 in a now-moot FY ’11 Pentagon appropriations measure, which was part of a continuing resolution (CR) funding the entire government for the rest of the year largely at FY ’10 levels that the Senate rejected last week. The committee’s dismissal of the engine program followed the House’s vote on Feb. 16 to strip $450 million for it from a competing FY ’11 defense bill, also within a government-wide full-year CR, that the Senate rejected last week.

Asked yesterday whether the General Electric-Rolls-Royce engine will be funded in FY ’11, Inouye said: “I don’t think so.”

Inouye’s backing of the second engine has been seen as key to its survival, considering his sway over appropriations bills in the Senate and diminished support for the engine in the House. He is under pressure to not fund the alternate engine in the Pentagon’s FY ’12 budget, which lawmakers began deliberating last month.

In a letter to Inouye and SAC Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) last week, a bipartisan group of 19 senators applauded the SAC’s move to leave funding for the alternate engine out of it CR and urged the panel to reject the engine in FY ’12 as well. Signers include Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) and members Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I/D-Conn.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Inouye, though, said the alternate engine may not be completely dead in the Senate in FY ’12, which begins Oct. 1.

“There may be a way to keep it alive,” he said. “But to fully fund it, there are no votes. Why go through all that misery?”

Inouye added “if there’s a rationale way” to keep the alternate engine alive in FY ’12, he’d “like to see it.”

He noted his support for the concept of the alternate engine has not waned.

Congress has consistently funded the alternate engine in recent years despite Pentagon and White House opposition to continuing to develop it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates argues the Pentagon cannot afford to spend billions of dollars on the engine, a backup to the F-35’s primary one developed by Pratt & Whitney [UTX]. The alternate engine is supported by lawmakers whose districts benefit by its development, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), as well many members of the House Armed Services Committee, who argue there are multiple benefits to maintaining competition between two F-35 engine makers and note a Pentagon analysis showed the long-term costs of building one or two engines would be nearly the same.

Gates said on Feb. 14 that he would look at “all available legal actions to close down” the alternate engine programs after Congress stopped funding the FY ’11 budget with CRs.

Also yesterday, the House passed another short-term CR that will last for three weeks and start when the current resolution expires Friday. The Senate is expected to approve it this week.

McCain said Monday he wants to attach a full-blown FY ’11 defense appropriations bill to the CR, via an amendment; such an attempt, though, is not expected to pass.

Lawmakers’ patience with funding the government through a series of CRs is waning.

Boehner told reporters yesterday: “We’ve been in conversations with the Senate and the White House and we’re hopeful that we’ll have a long-term continuing resolution through September 30th, and we’re hopeful that we’ll have it soon.”

House Republicans and Senate Democrats have been at odds over how much funding to cut in FY ’11. The House-passed CR the Senate rejected last week called for trimming $61 billion from current spending, while the SAC version included a $6 billion cut. The SASC bill would cut President Barack Obama’s Pentagon proposal by $17.3 billion, while the House’s version would provide $2.13 billion more.