By John M. Donnelly and Anne Plummer
A $408.9 billion Pentagon spending measure including an additional $45.3 billion for war costs was approved Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee.
The committee’s fiscal 2006 defense bill, which represents almost half of all federal discretionary spending, would provide money for twice the number of new warships President Bush requested. But Bush’s requests for some of the top Army and Navy weapons modernization programs would be slashed.
Not counting money for military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, which does not count toward the bill’s spending limit, the measure approved by voice vote would provide $3.3 billion less than Bush requested, but about 3.1 percent more than the amount appropriated for this year.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they were pleased with the bill, but added they were hard-pressed to cover the military’s needs within the committee’s 302 (b) allocation for the measure.
“We had to be very creative,” said C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
“This is the best we could do with the little bit of money we had,” said John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the subcommittee.
Senate appropriators have not yet acted on their version of the legislation.
The House panel voted to trim the president’s budget request for operations and maintenance by 2.4 percent and to boost research and development spending by 3.3 percent. Funding levels for personnel and procurement are similar to the president’s.
Tuesday’s debate focused on Democrats’ disappointment that more of the expected cost of the continuing military action in Iraq is not reflected in the spending bill. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the committee’s top Democrat, predicted the $45.3 billion would cover the first six months of the fiscal year.
Obey’s calculations were based on the more than $100 billion appropriated for the war in fiscal 2005. The military received $25 billion in the fiscal 2005 defense appropriations law (PL 108-287) and an additional $75.9 billion in a supplemental spending package (PL 109-13) enacted last month.
The committee rejected, 18-40, an amendment offered by Obey that would have increased taxes on the wealthy to generate $25.8 billion in revenue that could be used to help pay for the war during fiscal 2006.
“This is the usual Obey amendment,” scoffed Young, who noted that the Appropriations Committee has “zero jurisdiction” over tax laws.
The House appropriators shaved funding from several of the administration’s top modernization projects. For example, the bill would provide $449 million less than the $3.4 billion Bush requested for the Army’s Future Combat System.
“The committee has deep concerns about whether there will be sufficient funding available in the coming years for the Army to afford these efforts,” committee members wrote in their report on the bill.
The appropriators also decided to cancel the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile on grounds that it has “repeatedly failed reliability and performance tests,” according to a committee statement. Instead of providing the $150 million requested, the committee recommended $2 million to close out existing contracts.
In the shipbuilding category, the bill would deny the $716 million requested to begin procurement of the DD(X) destroyer and would rescind $304 million in fiscal 2005 funding. Appropriators also reduced by more than $300 million a $1.1 billion request for research for the DD(X) and future cruisers.
While dealing a blow to the DD(X) program, the bill would add funds to buy ships the administration has not requested: one Arleigh Burke class destroyer for $1.4 billion and two Littoral Combat Ships for a total of $440 million. Also included is $380 million for an additional T-AKE dry cargo ship, bringing to eight the number of new ships the bill would fund.
The administration’s request for Air Force space programs also was trimmed, with House appropriators echoing concerns expressed by the Armed Services Committee and the House in the fiscal 2006 defense authorization bill (HR 1815) passed last month.
“In recent years, the acquisition of these capabilities has become increasingly problematic, with recurring rounds of significant cost growth and schedule delay,” House appropriators wrote in their report.
The spending bill would provide $400 million less than $836 million Bush requested for the Transformational Satellite Communications program. The committee also slashed $100 million from the Air Force’s $226 million request for Space Radar.
About 80 percent of the committee’s $45.3 billion in war spending is earmarked to pay military personnel and keep the military’s operations and maintenance accounts from drying up. But the bill also attempts to cover funding shortfalls that many lawmakers said eventually could cause major problems for ground forces.
The “bridge supplemental” for the war would include about $2.8 billion to replace equipment including trucks, radios, electronic jammers, Tomahawk cruise missiles and ammunition used or worn down in the wars. About $2.9 billion would be provided for Army equipment “rehabilitation.”
Another $1.2 billion would be designated for purchases of equipment intended to protect service members.
In keeping with previous appropriations bills, the measure would not provide enough funding to cover the military’s fiscal 2006 payroll. The Bush administration has increased the size of the military to manage operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has funded the additional personnel via supplemental spending bills.
The House bill would support that strategy, disappointing some Democrats. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday that he thinks more troops are needed. “I do not believe we provided the resources we need for our troops,” he said.