An EA-18G Growler launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. (MC3 Karl Anderson/ / US Navy)
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WASHINGTON — A US Senate panel on Thursday approved nearly $550 billion in military spending, while also proposing to keep alive weapon systems the Pentagon wanted to retire. But senior members made clear it may never see the Senate floor.
The chamber’s Appropriations Committee unanimously approved legislation that would give the Pentagon $489.6 billion in base spending and $58.3 billion in war funding. It would block a long list of weapon system retirement proposals, or Pentagon plans to not purchase systems next year to save money.
For the US defense sector, the proposed $547.9 billion total figure is another major victory — even amid warnings from sector executives that their firms will take big financial hits due to sequestration.
But the chamber for years has failed to pass agency spending bills due to an ever-intensifying Republicans vs. Democrats flap over amendments and process.
Sources for months have predicted the Senate likely will have to pass a short-term continuing resolution in late September to fund the government until after the November midterm elections and then provide a government-wide omnibus that might include a full defense bill, which would be pre-conferenced by House and Senate appropriators.
Senior Senate Appropriations Committee leaders, including a Senate Democratic leader, cast new doubt on the panel’s 2015 Pentagon spending bill’s fate.
Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said at the hearing’s start that she hopes the panel will eventually move legislation to keep the government funded and open. She never mentioned the defense bill getting to the floor.
About an hour later, Appropriation Defense subcommittee Chairman Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said this of a conference process with the House: “I hope we get that far.”
Notably, the legislation, which will be marked up by the full committee on Thursday, would provide $848.7 million not requested by the White House to refuel the USS George Washington aircraft carrier.
The other three defense committees did the same, meaning America almost certainly will maintain 11 carrier battle groups.
The bill would block the Air Force’s plans to retire the A-10 attack plane fleet by shifting $338 million from lower-priority items.
Another protected priority was the Navy’s E/A-18G Growler electronic warfare fleet.
The measure floats the idea of reviving the F136 engine program, killed in 2011 after the Pentagon decided it was no longer worth continuing development of a second F-35 power plant.
It also would cut the Obama administration’s proposal to spend $5 billion on a new counterterrorism program by over $3 billion.
The panel approved two dozen pre-negotiated, non-controversial amendments in a single bloc. It also killed, by a 9-21 vote, an amendment that would have placed restrictions on using funds allocated by the bill to pay for US military operations in Syria.
During that debate, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, charged the Obama administration with asking for $500 million to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels. Other senators joined her, a further example of how the White House’s $58.6 billion overseas contingency operations request is hitting resistance on Capitol Hill.