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Obama goals on weapons cuts, car dealers rebuffed

WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled House is supporting President Barack Obama's decision to shutter the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility but is resisting him on his efforts to cut weapons systems and revive the automobile industry.

First, a defense spending panel on Thursday disregarded Obama's attempts to cease production of the F-22 fighter and a badly over-budget new presidential helicopter as it approved a $636 billion measure for the Pentagon.

Later, the House will take up a spending measure that would force General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC to restore franchise agreements with the approximately 3,000 dealerships that they cut loose as part of restructuring plans approved by bankruptcy courts. The White House and the two companies oppose the idea, saying it would get in the way of the effort to return them to profitability.

But a campaign promise by Obama to close the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in Nevada was endorsed by the House as it wraps up a $33.3 billion measure funding energy programs and water projects.

That bipartisan measure funds everything from clean energy research to restoring oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay. Unlike virtually every other spending bill moving through Congress for the upcoming budget year, the measure essentially freezes spending for the programs covered by it. Most of the other spending bills contain spending increases far exceeding inflation.

Obama's Democratic allies have for the most part ignored Obama's to save $11.5 billion by killing or curbing more than 70 programs appropriated by Congress last year. The defense bill unveiled Thursday represented a sharp rebuke of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' efforts to kill weapons systems such as the F-22 fighter, the VH-71 presidential helicopter, the C-17 cargo jet, and an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The measure contained funding for each program, though Defense Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., only provided $369 million for the F-22, which he said would go mostly for spare parts. The $485 million for the presidential helicopter project would try to salvage five aircraft after spending more than $3.2 billion.

"You can't just cancel programs and not get anything out of them," Murtha said.

Murtha's bill also drops Obama's request for $100 million to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and includes $128 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Murtha said more money for the wars would probably have to be appropriated next spring depending on how well things are going in Afghanistan.

The decision to close the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada — a hotly contested project 25 years and $13.5 billion in the making — leaves the country without a long-term solution for storing highly radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. But it fulfills a campaign promise made by Obama and gives the state's congressional delegation, which was outgunned for years in its efforts to kill the project, a long-sought victory.

The House has already rejected Obama's effort to kill a $400 million program that helps states with the cost of incarcerating criminal illegal immigrants. And a homeland security spending bill passed last month funds the World War II-era LORAN-C maritime navigation system that Obama wanted to ax, even though it's been rendered obsolete by the modern global positioning system.

The energy and water measure contains almost 100 pages worth of water projects requested by the president and Capitol Hill lawmakers, along with scores of other "earmarks" for energy research projects. Grand Rapids Michigan would receive $250,000 to put solar panels on top of several city buildings, thanks to the local GOP congressman, Vernon Ehlers.

The Town of Cranford, New Jersey would get $180,000 to install 45 energy-efficient windows in the town building due to the efforts of Republican Rep. Leonard Lance. And at the request of Dina Titus, D-Nev., the City of Henderson, Nevada would receive $500,000 to install solar panels to help power its water treatment plant. Titus requested $2.5 million.