Proponents of the plane had argued for preserving jobs in the name of national security.
Senators voted Tuesday to strip $1.7 billion of funding from the defense budget that would have built seven more F-22 Raptor stealth fighters. Secretary Gates favored removal of the funding, and the vote could signal his ability to change the status quo on defense spending.
"Up until the last couple of hours, this vote was in doubt," Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said after the vote. "This was one of the most significant votes in national security in the years I've been in the Senate."
President Obama threatened to veto any bill that continued building the plane beyond the 187 the administration supports.
The administration, with Gates as its front man on defense, is seeking to change the way defense dollars are spent. It's trying to curtail programs it sees as wasteful and divert those funds to more-relevant programs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The controversy over the F-22 has become the effort’s largest symbol.
“At a time when we’re fighting two wars, and facing a serious deficit, [approval of the F-22 money] would have been an inexcusable waste of money,” Mr. Obama said at a Rose Garden event on healthcare Tuesday.
But the F-22 controversy isn't over. The House has included funding for additional F-22s in its legislation, so the two versions of the legislation will have to reconciled – maybe not until September.