The House of Representatives began considering the defense spending bill Wednesday afternoon after the White House expressed concerns about the bill the day before.
Though the administration stopped short of threatening to veto the defense spending bill – it did threaten to veto the defense authorization bill over many of the same issues – it warned that “the risk to the nation will grow significantly should the Congress not accept reforms proposed in the [fiscal year] 2015 budget. Without congressional support for meaningful compensation reforms and other cost saving measures, force structure changes, and flexibility to manage weapon systems and infrastructure, there is an increased risk to the Department’s ability to implement the President’s defense strategy, which will contribute to a military that will be less capable of responding effectively to future challenges.”
Among the concerns is billions in spending on programs the Pentagon did not request, “such as additional EA-18G aircraft, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles [humvees] , M-1 Abrams upgrades, and a significantly larger amount of funding for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account than provided in recent years.”
It singles out one project, a new liquid fuel rocket engine meant to provide an American-developed alternative to a Russian rocket engine the Air Force relies on. “An independent study recently concluded that such a program would take eight years to field and could cost $1.5 billion with another $3 billion needed to develop a suitable launch vehicle,” the memo warns. It asks Congress to pause this effort while the administration investigates public-private partnerships and other alternatives.
The memo also takes issue with cuts made to the Littoral Combat Ship program. The Pentagon wanted to buy three in FY ’15 and begin advance procurement for a fourth ship. The House bill changes that to two and two to save money, but the White House memo notes that the cut and deferment “would compound the already significant challenges the Navy faces in funding the shipbuilding account in a fiscally constrained environment while increasing overall costs to the Navy and increasing risk to the industrial base, including sub-tier suppliers.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, none of the amendments proposed on the House floor sought to address any of the White House’s issues. The spending bill is being debated on the floor under an open rule, meaning there are no restrictions on the number or topic of amendments offered. Because the amendments do not have to be filed in advance, it is unclear how many may be proposed. Subcommittee chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said earlier this month that he expected a large number of amendments on a wide range of issues.
The House Appropriations defense subcommittee’s bill passed the full committee on June 10 with only four amendments agreed to. In presenting the spending bill to the House floor, both Republican and Democratic appropriators expressed support for the bill.