WASHINGTON — Defying opposition from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, House appropriators are proposing a Pentagon spending bill with nearly $90 billion in a politically controversial war account.
The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday morning released its 2016 Pentagon-funding bill, which proposes $578.6 billion in defense spending. That includes an $88.4 billion overseas contingency operations (OCO) account, setting up a potential battle on the House floor.
The committee's overall funding level would be $24.4 billion above the amount enacted for the current fiscal year.
House and Senate Republican leaders earlier this year added around $40 billion to the war fund in the GOP-crafted 2016 budget resolution to appease defense hawks and secure their votes on that measure.
The White House has said the president will veto any bill with extra defense spending unless Republican leaders also swell domestic spending. That means the House's defense spending bill could be doomed.
But an alliance of right- and left-leaning House members says it plans to keep up its attacks on the Pentagon's war account.
The Republican deficit hawks and liberal Democrats, led by Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., say the extra OCO dollars won't be used for actual war-related items. The defense hawks say the extra funding is needed because the military is underfunded due to spending caps.
The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees marked their annual defense authorization bills to the same OCO level, and made clear the extra $38 billion will go toward things to make the US force more ready to fight.
The House Appropriations Committee said the $88.4 billion in OCO dollars would "provide the needed resources for the preparation and operation of our forces in the field, including funding for personnel requirements, operational needs, the purchase of new aircraft to replace combat losses, combat vehicle safety modifications, additional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, and maintenance of facilities and equipment."
"It also provides critical support to our key allies, such as Ukraine and Jordan, to resist aggression," the committee said in a summary of its legislation.
The Van Hollen-Mulvaney alliance recently forced House GOP leaders to abruptly pull a Veterans Affairs and Military Construction appropriations bill off the floor. And aides tell CongressWatch they intend to stick together for new attacks on the inflated war account.
The committee's proposed $578.6 billion, if enacted, would be $800 million more than the White House requested.
"Threats to our country and on our people continue to grow, and around the world new areas of concern seem to sprout up almost monthly. It is now more important than ever to provide our troops and commanders with the tools and support they need to protect our great nation and our way of life," Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said in a statement.
"This bill makes the most of a very tight budget, utilizing all resources to ensure that our military remains the best in the world," he said, "and that they are ready and able to protect all of us from those that wish to do harm."
The Appropriations Committee also includes language that would prohibit any funds allocated to the Pentagon be used to "divest, retire, transfer, or place in storage or on backup aircraft inventory status, or prepare to divest, retire, transfer, or place in storage or on backup aircraft inventory status, any A–10 aircraft, or to disestablish any units of the active or reserve component associated with such aircraft," according to the text of the legislation.
A House aide said the bill would allocate $452.7 million for A-10 operations in fiscal 2016.
The committee's bill proposes $116.7 billion for weapons procurement, nearly $99 billion in base procurement dollars and $18.1 billion in the OCO account. That would be $3 billion more than requested.
The legislation supports most major Pentagon weapon programs, including $8.4 billion for 65 Lockheed Martin-made F-35 fighters; $16.9 billion for nine Navy ships, including two DDG-51 destroyers and three littoral combat ships; $1.2 billion for 64 Boeing-made AH-64 helicopters; and $3 billion for 16 P-8A Poseidon aircraft, also made by Boeing.
Further, the legislation calls for $1.6 billion for 102 Sikorsky-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters; $2.3 billion for 12 Boeing-manufactured KC-46 tanker aircraft; $660 million for seven Boeing-made EA-18G Growler aircraft; $350 million for five Boeing-produced FA-18 E/F Super Hornet aircraft; and $315 million for Stryker "lethality upgrades."
The GOP-crafted legislation also proposes $55 million for the US-Israeli Iron Dome missile defense program.
Specific funding levels for some weapon programs are not included in the committee summary nor the version of the bill its defense subpanel will mark up behind closed doors on Wednesday.
But the summary states the legislation "will support" R&D efforts on several high-profile initiatives, including the Air Force's new long-range bomber, as well as the Navy's unmanned carrier-based strike system (UCLASS) and its Ohio-class submarine program.
For a copy of the version of the 2016 House spending bill the Appropriations Defense subpanel will take up Wednesday, click here.