Pratt & Whitney, which won the initial contract for the Joint Strike Fighter engine, argues that the government gains little by paying a second company to build an alternate. But General Electric contends in advertising placed on political websites and in Capitol Hill newspapers that having two companies build engines creates competition that will ultimately drive down costs. It's an argument, the company notes, that was supported in an independent study by the Government Accounting Office. The company's executives believe their efforts to persuade key leaders are working.
"As we go into the new year, if you look at the House and the election and the changes, you would have to say we have come out in a [strengthened] position," Rick Kennedy, General Electric's spokesman, told ABC News. "We have more people in chairmanship roles in the committees who support the engine."
In addition to arguing that an alternate engine could eventually push costs down, analysts with the House Armed Services Committee have also pointed out that a back up could keep the aircraft program aloft even if the primary engine for the aircraft, which is being built by Pratt & Whitney, proves unreliable.
Experts who have followed the debate say an even more critical driving force behind General Electric's bid may involve geography. GE and its partner on the engine, Rolls Royce, have a physical presence in dozens of congressional districts, and the representatives of those districts see a direct link between the engine contract and jobs.
Kennedy can rattle off the names of numerous key committee members and House and Senate leaders who support the alternate engine. A GE aviation facility is just a few miles from House Speaker John Boehner's Ohio district. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's district is near a Rolls Royce plant.
Kennedy also hinted the White House may have softened its stance, a belief that will not be contradicted today when President Obama visits a General Electric factory in New York to talk about jobs and to meet with General Electric CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt. Immelt has developed a close relationship with Obama, sitting on the president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, and scoring an invite to this week's state dinner with the president of China. Today he became the head of the Advisory Board's successor, the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Obama released a statement praising Immelt's "experience at GE and his understanding of the vital role the private sector plays in creating jobs and making America competitive."
"The White House really hasn't verbalized a position [on the engine] for a long time," Kennedy noted. "They had stated very early in 2010 that, if funding the competing engine disrupts the [joint strike fighter] program, he would veto it. It has been quiet since."
Kennedy added that he did not expect Immelt to raise the issue of the engine's funding during Friday's presidential visit. "That's just not Immelt's style," he said.
White House officials would not directly answer when asked if the president's veto threat still holds. But Meg Reilly, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in an email to ABC News: "There's no position change here. The Administration continues to oppose long term funding for the alternate engine."