WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that proposes nearly $600 billion in 2016 defense spending, leaving intact a controversial $88 billion war account and fully funding weapon programs.
The measure, largely crafted by Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., proposes $578.6 billion in defense spending and heads next to the chamber floor. The committee's overall funding level would be $24.4 billion above the amount enacted for the current fiscal year.
It passed overwhelmingly via voice vote, with support from Republicans and Democrats.
The measure includes an $88.4 billion overseas contingency operations (OCO) account, setting up a showdown with the Obama administration and a potential battle on the House floor. House and Senate Republican leaders earlier this year added about $40 billion to the war fund in the GOP-crafted 2016 budget resolution to appease defense hawks and secure their votes.
During the full committee markup, the panel defeated, 30-21, an amendment offered by Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., that would have moved the extra funding $38 billion from the proposed war fund to the base defense budget.
The full committee also shot down several amendments from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., targeting authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) measures passed in 2001 and 2002. Lee argued those force authorizations fail to legally cover ongoing US military operations against the Islamic State.
The panel did approve, with nearly 10 Republicans joining its Democrats, a Lee amendment stating Congress should debate then decide whether to authorize the ongoing military operations.
Many government watchdogs, joined by conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, call the OCO account a "slush fund" that should not be used to offset spending caps.
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 senior White House officials, including Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, say congressional Republicans can avoid that if they work with Democrats to also increase domestic spending.
Donovan sent a letter Monday night to Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the committee chairman, and top House Appropriations Democrat Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., that likely will provide ammunition for the floor debate over the legislation, likely possibly in the coming weeks.
Donovan wrote that he has "serious concerns about this legislation, which would underfund these important investments in the base budget and instead rely on budget gimmicks that have been criticized by members of both parties." It was first obtained by Defense News.
"The legislation also includes highly problematic riders and provisions that would preclude needed reforms," he wrote.
Despite Donovan's eleventh-hour plea, the inflated war account heads to the chamber floor as part of the broader bill.
And Frelinghuysen said Tuesday that the war fund proposes $500 million in new spending on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) items. He said the new fund was created based on testimony to the Defense subcommittee by the military combatant commanders.
If included in the final version of the legislation, it also would require "a detailed spending plan" be submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations panels spelling out how the extra ISR funds would be spent.
Among many highly anticipated program-specific proposals, 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.
However, it also contains a provision that would limit funds for about half of those F-35s due to concerns over a logistics system.
That provision would fully fund only 36 Air Force F-35A models in fiscal 2016 "until the secretary of defense certifies to the congressional defense committees that the Department of Defense has accepted delivery of ALIS equipment that meets the requirements necessary to support Air Force declaration of [initial operational capability] for the F–35A not later than the end of calendar year 2016."
ALIS is short for Autonomic Logistics Information System, which is intended to, as the committee puts it, "predict and diagnose the overall health of all variants of F-35 aircraft."
Furthermore, 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.
The panel also would allocate funds for several big-ticket R&D efforts, 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.
The committee's report states the bill would dole out $786 million for "continued development of a new penetrating bomber," and $218 million for the UCLASS program.