Rehberg votes in favor of pricey planes for congressmen
HELENA - Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., voted several times in favor of buying elite Air Force jets to fly lawmakers around, but said this week he never supported the purchases and applauds a recent move to strip the spending from the military budget.
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The planes fanned controversy this week after the Wall Street Journal reported they had been inserted into a larger military spending bill against the wishes of the Pentagon. The House removed the jet money late Monday.
Jed Link, a Rehberg spokesman, said the congressman cast his vote for a broader military spending bill, which included money for American troops, and did not necessarily support money for the jets.
"While Denny joined a broad, bipartisan majority in supporting funds for or men and women in uniform, he opposes funding for the purchases of these additional jets," Link said in a statement. "The justifiable public outcry over this provision demonstrates why government transparency is so vital."
The Defense Department initially requested $220 million in its budget to buy one Gulfstream jet and three Boeing Co. aircraft. The executive planes are used to fly member of Congress and high-ranking government officials at no charge on global trips.
Rehberg sits on the House Appropriations Committee, which writes the first draft of most government spending.
This spring, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who heads the smaller subcommittee that works on defense spending, decided to more than double the Pentagon's requests for executive airplanes.
Murtha's committee passed a bill that included $550 million to buy eight new aircraft.
That spending was included in the larger $640 billion bill that Rehberg and the rest of the House Appropriations Committee voted overwhelmingly for. The same bill passed the full house by a large 400-30 margin.
Rehberg voted for the larger bill.
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal began writing stories about the jets, which the Pentagon opposed. Senators vowed to cut out the spending once the bill reached the senior chamber. President Obama also came out against the spending, as well as House members from both parties.
Back home in Montana, Democrats attacked Rehberg for voting for the bill.
"What's disturbing is he did nothing at any time to remove this provision from the bill," said Dennis McDonald, chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a candidate for Rehberg's seat in 2010. "He seemed quite content on spending a huge amount of taxpayer money for these luxury jets to whisk congressmen around the world."
Tyler Gernant, of Missoula, another Democratic congressional candidate, said he doubts whether Rehberg even read the entire bill and knew the $550 million was included.
"I think that just goes to show how disingenuous his pledge really was and how little work he really does for Montana," Gernant said.
Gernant was referring to a recent pledge Rehberg made to read every bill.