GOP House committee's defense bill mostly follows the administration's plan

The House Armed Services Committee largely endorsed the Obama administration’s defense spending and programmatic wishes in a 2012 Pentagon authorization bill revealed on Monday.

The panel’s measure is the first national-security spending bill lawmakers have taken up in the post-Osama bin Laden era. It suggests little has changed on Capitol Hill despite the killing of the al Qaeda founder.

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While committee Chairman Buck McKeon’s (R-Calif.) legislation features few changes to the administration’s program plans, some substantive changes are expected Wednesday, when the panel is set to consider more than 600 amendments in what promises to be a marathon markup.

The chairman’s mark contains several notable policy provisions, but does not feature language that would place stipulations on federal aid to Pakistan. Members of both parties last week called for such strings after bin Laden was found hiding near Islamabad.

The debate in Washington about the proper size of future defense budgets has pitted GOP fiscal hawks — especially freshmen — against defense hawks, like McKeon, who want to swell annual Pentagon budgets.

The committee’s authorization bill falls somewhere in between the two sides’ whims. It stops short of the hardware program increases McKeon has pushed for and contains no deep cuts like the ones eyed by some budget-minded freshmen.

All major hardware projects, including the F-35 fighter and Littoral Combat Ship, were fully funded.

The measure contains a convoluted provision aimed at keeping alive a second engine program for the F-35 being developed by Rolls-Royce and GE. It would require the Pentagon to have a competition for the fighter’s engine if certain upgrades are made to the primary power plant, being made by Pratt & Whitney.

Committee members who are opposed to the second engine program are expected to propose an amendment to strike that provision.

The bill does not require the Pentagon to keep alive the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), which Pentagon and USMC brass want to kill because it has become too expensive.

Amid predictions from senior pro-

defense lawmakers about additional Pentagon budget cuts, the House panel wants to add more than $100 million to the Pentagon’s 2012 funding request for missile defense programs.

In recent weeks, Reps. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, and other lawmakers have said they anticipate Congress will take its ax to the Pentagon’s $553 billion 2012 spending plan.

Both said the budget-cutting fervor on Capitol Hill that led to the compromise 2011 defense budget, which cut $18 billion from the Pentagon’s request, would still be around this summer as lawmakers take up the next military spending plan.

McKeon made small increases to the administration’s $15 billion procurement and $75 billion research-and-development requests. 

In a statement, McKeon attempted to cast the initial authorization measure as fiscally sound.

“The 2012 defense bill reflects the fact that members of the Armed Services Committee, the broader Congress — and the nation — must make tough choices in order to provide for America’s common defense,” McKeon said. 

“We must examine every aspect of the defense enterprise — not as a target for arbitrary funding reductions, as the current administration has proposed — but to find ways that we can accomplish the mission of providing for the common defense more effectively,” McKeon added.