US House Panel Proposes $570B for Defense; Adds Monies for Carrier, Growlers
By JOHN T. BENNETT
WASHINGTON — US House defense appropriators moved one step closer Thursday morning to approving $570.4 billion in base and war spending for the Pentagon, including funds for an 11th aircraft carrier and electronic-attack planes.
Notably, the lower chamber’s Appropriations Defense subcommittee’s mark of a 2015 military spending bill does not mention the Air Force’s A-10 attack plane fleet, which service officials are proposing to retire to save money. House and Senate authorizers found budgetary offsets to block the move, and the full House Appropriations Committee still could follow suit when it marks up the bill.
Aides say the bill should be approved by the subcommittee and sent to the full committee Friday morning. It includes a $491 billion defense appropriations bill and a separate $79.4 billion overseas contingency operations (OCO), or war funding, section.
The subcommittee also found $2.1 billion in eyebrow-raising items to nix and create savings, including $592 million that the Pentagon overestimated it needed for civilian personnel costs.
The House is in recess next week. An aide said the full Appropriations Committee likely will take up the defense bill the following week.
As has become the subcommittee’s annual custom, it briefly stepped out of line Thursday with warnings by establishment House Republicans that current military spending is too low. A subcommittee summary of the legislation released with the bill notes in its opening paragraphs that its 2015 funding levels would equal “an increase of $4.1 billion above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $200 million above the president’s request.”
Unlike some House Armed Services Committee leaders, the subpanel’s chairman signaled the $570.4 billion would be enough to maintain America’s military advantage.
“This subcommittee has worked in a bipartisan fashion to provide the Department and intelligence community with the resources needed to maintain and modernize the best equipped and most capable military in the world today and in the future,” Defense subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., said in a statement.
“In addition, we have established priorities that will enhance readiness for our military so they remain prepared to protect America in an increasingly dangerous world.”
For weapon systems, the HAC-D bill would provide the Pentagon $91.2 billion to send to arms manufacturers, $1.6 billion more than the Obama administration requested.
Specifically, it calls for $5.8 billion next year to buy 38 Lockheed Martin-made F-35 fighters, four more than requested.
Following the lead of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, the House Appropriations defense subpanel wants to maintain an 11-aircraft carrier fleet. It found $789 million to shift toward refueling the USS George Washington, which would keep that number of flattops in the active rotation.
In a big win for Boeing, the HAC-D bill shifts $975 million for the 12 EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets the Navy wanted but opted to exclude from its 2015 request. Another win for the Chicago-based company is the $1.6 billion the subpanel is proposing for the Air Force’s KC-46A aerial tanker program.
“This [weapons] funding will help ensure our nation’s military readiness by providing the necessary platforms, weapons, and other equipment our forces need to train, maintain our force, and conduct successful operations,” states the subcommittee’s summary.
In a further win for the Pentagon and US arms makers, the bill proposes $63.4 billion for weapons research and development, nearly $370 million above the 2014 enacted amount and $171 million more than the administration sought.
That includes fully funding the Pentagon’s requests for the F-35, KC-46A, the Air Force’s new long-range bomber program, the Navy’s unmanned carrier-based drone aircraft initiative, the sea service’s next-generation submarine, the Army-Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle effort, the Navy’s P8-A multimission maritime aircraft initiative and the RQ-4 Triton drone aircraft program for the Navy and Air Force.
“These activities will help to advance the safety and success of current and future military operations, and will help prepare our nation to meet a broad range of future security threats,” the subcommittee said.
During numerous hearings about the 2015 defense spending request, senior civilian and uniformed officials warned lawmakers that ongoing sequestration cuts would make the military less ready to do a number of missions around the globe.
To that end, “the bill includes an additional $1.2 billion to fill readiness shortfalls, [and] $721 million to restore unrealistic reductions in the president’s request to facility sustainment and modernization,” according to the summary.
The bill’s inclusion of the $79.4 billion for the OCO accounts comes one day after senior White House officials took to cable news to describe the cost of keeping President Obama’s desired 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan next year: $20 billion.
The administration is expected to request more than that amount for operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, however.
Lawmakers have expressed frustration for months about their inability to get a sense of just how large the 2015 OCO fund would need to be, saying senior administration officials have been uncooperative on that topic.
On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., echoed members of both parties in saying White House officials “are very hard to work with.”
During a forum at Washington’s George Washington University, Rogers said getting any notion from the White House about the OCO figure has been “the most frustrating” experience he can recall.■
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