WASHINGTON — The US House started work on a 2014 Pentagon spending bill by blocking a Democratic effort to zero funding for a GOP-proposed East Coast missile shield while voting to build Israel’s Iron Dome missiles in America.
The Republican-controlled chamber also rejected plans for additional funds for new submarine technologies, and an amendment to remove funds for nearly 15 new missile interceptors in the western United States. Both were offered by Democratic members.
Republicans and Democrats sparred for around half an hour on the House floor late Tuesday afternoon over several Democratic amendments targeting GOP and Pentagon missile defense plans.
The chamber defeated (249 nays to 173 yays) a plan offered by Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and James Garamendi of California to essentially kill a plan crafted by the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee to devote $70 million to the proposed project in 2014. The two Democrats proposed using those dollars for deficit reduction.
Democrats rose to rail against the proposed East Coast shield as not needed, citing DoD officials admission that there is no military requirement for such a system. GOP members said it is needed as soon as possible, citing their own military officials’ comments.
The chamber also rejected (272 nays-141 yays) an amendment offered by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., to remove nearly $110 million called for in the bill to install 14 new ground-based interceptor missiles. Polis wanted instead to used the monies to pare the federal deficit.
Polis summarized the Pentagon’s plans as designed to “deflect missiles from rogue states” like Iran and North Korea.
“That’d be great, if it worked,” he said, noting the GMD program’s last successful test intercept occurred in 2008. “The GMD program is simply a failure so far. ... It would be foolish to throw good taxpayer money after bad.”
During a rapid-fire start to an expected three days of work on the defense appropriations bill, the House, via a voice vote, approved an amendment offered by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., that would make available $15 million to build Iron Dome missiles on US soil.
The Iron Dome system has reportedly helped Israel turn back several short-range rocket attacks. Heck’s amendment would move the $15 million from other parts of the defense budget into an account to “[produce] the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense program in the United States, including for the infrastructure, tooling, transferring data, special test equipment and related components.”
Heck and other members took to the House floor Tuesday afternoon to underscore how the legislation would assist Israel by opening a second production line for the missile interceptors.
Meantime, the lower chamber, via a voice vote as part of a bloc of amendments, approved an amendment offered by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., that would prohibit any use of funds allocated for 2014 to be spent to foster a “net increase of additional flag or general officers above current levels.”
Grayson’s amendment aligns with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s intention to shrink by 20 percent all Pentagon and combatant command staffs.
The chamber also approved an amendment offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, to strip $10 million from the defense-wide procurement account and use those funds to aid wounded veterans.
House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., rose to support the amendment, a rare bipartisan moment on the House floor.
“PTSD is going to be with us for a long time,” a somber Young said at one point.
The chamber, meantime, rejected a plan offered by House Armed Services intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., that would have taken $22 million from DoD operations and maintenance coffers and shifted the dollars to work on new technologies for US submarines.
Young spoke out against the amendment, saying his subcommittee already allocated $32 million for the work. Young also said because Langevin was proposing to take the funds from accounts used for special operations forces, he was opposing the amendment.
Young contended that “any program manager” within the Defense Department would be unable to properly absorb what would amount to a 63 percent funding hike above what the submarine technologies program received for fiscal 2013.
The chamber also overwhelmingly rejected (372 nays-50 yays) a plan offered by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, that would have increased the budget for the Navy’s Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare weapon and Air-Launched Long Range Anti-Ship Missile program by $104 million. Her amendment would have funded the programs by decreasing operations and maintenance (O&M) accounts by the same amount.
Young spoke against the Gabbard amendment, saying it would take too many funds from accounts used to finance things for special operations forces, which he said are used today more than ever — including “in places that might surprise you.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and John Conyers, D-Mich., saw their amendment proposing to cut by 10 percent the Navy’s request for the Ohio-class submarine program go down (372 nays to 49 yays). The duo wanted to instead use those dollars to help the Pentagon better handle sequestration.
The House began debating amendments around 3 p.m. EST and moved at breakneck speed — by House standards — quickly through more than 35 of 100 amendments approved Monday by the lower chamber’s Rules Committee.
House leadership schedules indicate the legislation could be on the chamber floor most of the week, with a final vote expected Thursday.