Missouri House bails out from fighter jet controversy

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House tried to steer clear of controversy on Thursday over earlier support it offered for a fighter jet that some fear could compete with a plane built in St. Louis.

Missouri lawmakers earlier this month approved a resolution that called for full funding of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, calling it crucial for modernizing the nation's armed forces and necessary to replace "aging and obsolete aircraft." One such aircraft is the F/A-18 that is produced in St. Louis by one of Missouri's largest employers.

The Missouri House offered a public mea culpa Thursday and approved a new resolution that praises the F/A-18 and urges Congress to support further production of the jet and full funding for that program.

The F/A-18 is produced by Boeing Corp., which employs about 15,000 people in Missouri, including 5,000 connected to that jet. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is built by Lockheed Martin Corp. in Texas, but its suppliers support about 500 jobs in Missouri. Some fear there could be future competition between the two companies to produce fighter jets and an immediate battle to dodge budget cuts for the two existing projects. The concern has heightened amid rising criticism of federal spending and the national debt.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon criticized the original House resolution that praised the F-35 and said its sentiments were not the position of state government.

House members offered full-throated praise Thursday for the F/A-18 before passing the new resolution 125-0. It drew praise from a couple lawmakers who work at Boeing and led to a former U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot to offer his seal of approval for a plane that he called a "high-tech" jet that Missourians should be proud is made in St. Louis.

Summarizing the House's new thoughts: "I want Boeing to know that we are friendly to them," said Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-O'Fallon.

In the end, the dogfight over fighter jets may not mean too much. Neither resolution is binding and both merely send a message to the Congress and the White House.

Nonetheless, Missouri lawmakers wanted to be clear that the state House meant no harm and did not necessarily understand how the original resolution could affect Boeing.

"I love military fighter jets. The more the merrier," said House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

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