Key lawmakers predicted yesterday the House will make few changes to the Pentagon budget bill in two weeks, despite the White House’s opposition and Senate plans to advance a more-modest version.
Shortly after the House Rules Committee prepped yesterday the fiscal year 2013 defense appropriations bill for House debate, the White House threatened to veto it for exceeding funding levels President Barack Obama wants.
In a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP), the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) slams the $519.2 billion Pentagon budget-setting bill approved last month by the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) for surpassing funding levels dictated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) is expected to heed that deficit-controlling law and offer a bill that is $8 billion less than the HAC’s.
The OMB argues passing the HAC bill at its current funding level would force Congress to cut funding in other appropriations bill for “critical national priorities such as education, research and development, job training, and health care.”
“Furthermore, the bill undermines key investments in high-priority programs, impeding the ability of the secretary of defense to carry out the defense strategic guidance issued earlier this year, and hindering the ability of the armed forces to carry out their missions consistent with the new strategy,” it says. If Obama were presented the current bill, it says “his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”
HAC Defense subcommittee (HAC-D) Chairman C.W. “Bill” Young and Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said yesterday they know they will have to agree to shrink the size of the $519.2 billion bill during negotiations with the Senate later this year.
“That will be a major negotiating item with the Senate,” Young told Defense Daily. “But we’ll work it out. We understand that our number won’t hold.”
Young said he optimistically is hoping the House and Senate will both pass their versions of the defense spending bill and then negotiate a final version to send Obama before FY ’13 starts in October. SAC Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has said his panel will mark up its legislation as soon as the House passes its version. The House is expected to debate the HAC’s bill in two weeks, after lawmakers return from next week’s recess. The House Rules Committee was poised yesterday afternoon to approve an open rule for the legislation, allowing any members to offer amendments to it on the floor without any pre-approval.
Young maintained yesterday the HAC’s bill is “very carefully drawn (and) everything was balanced.”
“We need to be careful about (amendments), because there are so many (military) needs,” he said. “While we did increase the president’s budget request, there are a lot of things that the military asked for that were not in the budget request. But they have a way of asking for it outside the (public congressional) hearing. And we took care of a lot of that, which we consider to be quite important.”
Young and Dicks said they have no House floor amendments planned to the HAC-approved legislation.
“I’m a supporter of the bill,” Dicks told Defense Daily. “It’s a good bill.” He said there are “a few things that we’ll improve,” including the topline amount that he said will be reduced.
Dicks said amendments to cut weapons programs including a new Air Force bomber could be offered on the House floor. But, he added: “Between the Republicans and the defense-minded Democrats we’ve got enough votes to prevent anything bad, (such as) some dismantling of some weapons system.”
He and other HAC-D members predicted yesterday that the House will not cut additional funding for the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program in the bill. The HAC measure heeds the Pentagon’s request to buy 29 F-35s from Lockheed Martin [LMT] but pares the $8.9 billion F-35 request slightly, trimming $528.4 million in procurement monies and $16.8 million in research funding.
“I think there’s support in Congress” for the F-35, Dicks said. “We have to keep working that and improving that airplane, but I don’t think there’d be enough votes to kill it.”
HAC-D member Jim Moran (D-Va.) said while the F-35 is “still a work in progress” he believes “there’s enough support for it.”
“It certainly is an awful lot of jobs all over the country,” he told Defense Daily.
Moran and other HAC-D members said they don’t think it will be very difficult to combine the House bill in the future with a Senate version that is $8 billion smaller.
“We’ve got a lot of camaraderie on both sides of the aisle,” in terms of the defense appropriations bill, Moran said. “That’s just not going to be tough.”
There is buzz on Capitol Hill about lawmakers using the defense appropriations bill as a legislative vehicle to attach funding for other government agencies for FY ’13.
“I think the defense bill is probably the one that is going to be most easily conferenced with Senate, because (the House and Senate versions) are going to have the least disparity…in terms of funding and the details” compared to other government appropriations bills, Moran said.
OMB, meanwhile, cites additional qualms with the bill beyond those it specifically says would spur a veto. Those include “the billions of dollars the bill provides for items (the Department of Defense) DoD did not request and does not need, as well as section 8006 of the bill, which makes spending on these unnecessary items statutorily required,” the SAP says.
The White House also objects to the HAC’s move to prevent the Air Force and Army from axing or retiring C-27J and C-23 aircraft and Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aerial vehicles. Additional administration concerns with the bill include its zeroing out of funding for the Medium Extended Air Defense System and Afloat Forward Staging Base, incremental funding setup for Space-Based Infrared System satellites, and cuts to Pentagon-requested monies for Fire Scout drone upgrades, Army depot maintenance, USS Enterprise aircraft carrier deactivation, and biofuels development.