Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., House Appropriations defense subcommittee chairman, said its spending bill will address military readiness and sustainment shortfalls. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — A US House panel on Tuesday approved $570 billion in Pentagon spending for 2015, but became the first committee to support retiring the A-10 fleet.
After several hours of debating and voting on amendments, the House Appropriations Committee easily approved a $491 billion defense appropriations bill and a separate $79.4 billion overseas contingency operations (OCO), or war funding, section.
That matches the Obama administration’s request for both when the spending level of a separate military construction bill — which the full House already has approved — is factored in.
In a major victory 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.
Aided by $2.1 billion worth of items the committee identified within the Pentagon’s spending request that it could avoid funding, including $592 million that the Pentagon overestimated it needed for civilian personnel costs, it was able to overturn some proposed weapon system cuts and add funds for platforms the military did not request.
Case in point: electronic warfare aircraft for the Navy.
The sea service’s 2015 request did not ask for any E/A-18G Growler electronic warfare jets, but the full panel signed off on its Defense subcommittee’s proposal to shift $975 million for 12 Growlers the Navy publicly admitted it really wanted but excluded from its request.
The committee shot down an amendment, offered by Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., that would have blocked an Air Force plan to retire its A-10 fleet to cut costs. It was defeated, with 13 yays and 23 nos, via a show of hands.
It would have proposed transferring from other parts of the Air Force’s operations and maintenance account $339.3 million “for sustainment of A-10 aircraft operations.”
The vote made HAC the first congressional defense panel to endorse the service’s A-10 retirement plan.
The panel’s bill, which should be on the House floor before the chamber’s annual August recess, would provide the Pentagon $91.2 billion to send to arms manufacturers. That would be $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 another win for Boeing, the bill includes $1.6 billion for the Air Force’s KC-46A aerial tanker program.
In addition to the aerial tanker and F-35, the bill would fund 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.
During hearings this year on the 2015 defense spending request, senior civilian and uniformed officials said ongoing sequestration cuts would make the military less ready to conduct missions around the world.
Panel Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the legislation contains funds to address those worries by proposing to purchase weapons needed by US troops.
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 a committee summary of the bill.
The amendment also would slap limitations on the use of American dollars to buy Russian-made helicopters unless senior US national security officials certify that Russian leaders have ceased doing things like sending arms to Syria’s military. It also would limit use of the funds for the Rosoboronexport-made choppers until Russian forces have withdrawn from Crimea, as well as other measures.
The committee killed an amendment offered by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., that would have prohibited any Pentagon funds from being spent to arm rebel forces in Syria next year.
Opponents of the measure argued it would have tied President Barack Obama’s hands to respond in any fashion to the years-long and bloody civil war there.
Members approved the $79.4 billion OCO amount, but Democrats joined Republicans in criticizing the Obama administration for being months late in sending the actual war-funding request to the Hill.
The White House said late last month it was “finalizing” that request, but it has yet to tell lawmakers when it should arrive.
The committee also killed an amendment offered by Democratic Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee of Texas that would have required regular reports from the executive branch detailing each US action under the post-9/11 authorization of military force (AUMF).
Opponents of the measure, like Defense subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., argued it would have given US foes such as al-Qaida “a roadmap” of American counterterrorism tactics. Lee shot back that it would not have done so because it could have been classified.
She also expressed disappointment with her colleagues, saying Congress too often “abdicates” its war powers to the executive branch.
The bill could be on the House floor next week, but a final decision on timing has not yet been made. ■