Whirlwind Week: Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., finished work on the Pentagon's fiscal 2015 authorization bill last week. Leaders hope to have a compromise bill completed before the end of the fiscal year. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The House and Senate Armed Services committees each passed their markups of the 2015 defense budget last week, allowing the lawmakers to get out of town for the holiday weekend.
The House bill got through on a 325-98 vote after weighing more than 100 amendments, finally authorizing $521.3 billion in the base for defense programs, with another $79.4 billion for overseas contingency operations.
The leaders of the House committee had sharply contrasting views of the quality of the bill, however, with Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., extolling the legislation as one that “guards against achieving false short-term savings at the expense of vital long-term strategic capabilities.”
His Democratic counterpart, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, complained, however, that “I don’t believe we did make a tough choice. When you look at the issues that we face in terms of the budget, we ducked every single one of them.”
The slightly smaller Senate bill would fund the Pentagon to the tune of $514 billion for 2015, which includes $320 million to keep the Air Force’s iconic A-10 Warthog airborne for another year after finding offsetting savings in personnel accounts.
Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte, N.H., John McCain, Ariz., Lindsey Graham, S.C., and Saxby Chambliss, Ga., hailed the move, releasing a joint statement on May 22 saying “today’s overwhelming bipartisan vote in support of the A-10 is great news for our ground troops and an affirmation of our obligation to provide them with the best possible close-air support. We will continue the fight to ensure that the A-10 can continue to protect American troops serving in harm’s way.”
McCain was one of the most influential lawmakers on markup day, managing to get 11 amendments into the final Senate bill.
Both bills also include funds to refuel and overhaul the aircraft carrier George Washington, and block the sidelining of 11 cruisers — something the White House and the Navy oppose — and both houses also went along with the Army’s plan to transfer the National Guard’s Apache helicopter fleet to the active force, but at a steep cost for the service: Lawmakers want an independent commission to review the plan, and will limit the transfers to 48 aircraft until that work is complete.
The head of the National Guard Association of the United States, retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, said that his members “owe a debt of gratitude” to Congress for creating a National Commission on the Future of the Army, as the legislation “represents more progress toward our goal of getting America’s Army right for 2020 and beyond.”
The Senate increased the US Special Operations Command’s $7.7 billion budget to include $36.4 million to support aircrew training hours, and $20 million for high priority unit readiness training, identified by the command as an unfunded readiness requirement.
Senators also restored funding for one of two Ohio-class submarine training exercises that were cut in the White House’s fiscal 2015 budget, while also adding $346.6 million for Army depot maintenance, unit training and modernization.
The Marine Corps also received an extra $57.5 million to fund two new special purpose Marine air-ground task forces in the US Central and Southern commands. The Corps recently stood up the first of these units for US Africa Command.
The floor process left intact the general crux of the House Armed Services Committee-crafted bill: It protects a slew of weapon programs mostly by raiding accounts used for service contracts and other non-weapons accounts.
Those transfers would add $450 million for five EA-18Gs, $348 million for the “Israeli Cooperative Missile Defense” program, $800 million for the Navy’s amphibious ship program and $120 million for Abrams tank upgrades. ■
Leo Shane III and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.