Defying opposition from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats — and a White House veto threat — the House Appropriations defense subcommittee last week approved a $578.6 billion 2016 Pentagon spending bill. The measure includes nearly $500 billion in base defense spending and $88.4 billion in war funding. If enacted, that funding level would be $24.4 billion above the amount enacted for the current fiscal year.
Issue: By Air, By Land, By Sea
Background: The subcommittee was supportive of many of the Pentagon's proposals for major weapon programs, including aircraft and helicopters. The panel's bill proposes $116.7 billion for weapons procurement, nearly $99 billion in base procurement and $18.1 billion for overseas contingency operations (OCO) — $3 billion more than requested.
Getting specific: The subpanel approved bills for 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 copters; $2.3 billion for 12 Boeing-built 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."
Background: For a couple of years, the Air Force has proposed retiring its aging A-10 attack planes to save money. For a couple of years, lawmakers have rejected that idea. House and Senate versions of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would keep the planes flying. House appropriators last year did not include A-10 funding in their bill, but an amendment to keep the planes was tacked on during floor debate. This year, the subcommittee acted.
Getting specific: The subpanel included 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.
Issue: OCO Fight?
Background: House and Senate Republican leaders earlier this year added around $40 billion to the OCO 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, with its $88.4 billion war fund. The extra funds would go for non-war items, something an alliance of right- and left-leaning House members opposes.
Getting specific: The House subcommittee 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 assets, and maintenance of facilities and equipment."
Using the war fund to buy items not for ongoing armed conflicts has raised the ire of Republican deficit hawks and liberal Democrats, led by Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C. Watch for the Van Hollen-Mulvaney alliance to offer some kind of floor amendment targeting the inflated OCO when the bill hits the House floor later this summer.