Defense spending bill ignores budget cuts pushed by Pentagon


The defense-spending bill written by Congress ignores cuts to several high-profile Pentagon programs proposed by the Obama administration.

The bill, which is expected to come to the House floor this week, includes money for the General Electric-Rolls-Royce alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and for 10 additional Boeing C-17 cargo planes.

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It also includes a lifeline of sorts for the VH-71 presidential helicopter, which the administration has canceled due to cost concerns.

The Pentagon did not ask for money to continue any of these programs. The funding for the three programs makes up about $3.1 billion in the $636.3 billion Pentagon-spending bill agreed to by congressional negotiators.

The massive bill also includes $128.3 billion in war funds.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates in October told Reps. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Bill Young (R-Fla.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, that he would recommend Obama veto the defense-spending bill if it included money for the VH-71 and if funds for the F-35 alternate engine threaten to “seriously” disrupt the overall fighter program.

Gates also told the Senate that he strongly opposed the $2.5 billion for 10 additional C-17s. The House included three additional C-17s in its version of the bill, but negotiators agreed on 10 for the final bill — the number included in the original Senate version of the measure.

But Democrats are also looking to the defense bill as a vehicle to raise the country’s debt ceiling and to extend unemployment benefits and healthcare insurance subsidies for the long-term jobless.

So it is unlikely that Obama will end up vetoing the bill, despite the previous threats.

Obama earlier this year had personally promised to veto any defense bills that contained funds for Lockheed Martin’s F-22 fighter jet. On that issue, the president appears to have won the day.

Obama did not personally threaten a veto if his recommendations on the other three high-profile programs were not followed. The veto threats came in the form of recommendations from administration officials.

House and Senate defense appropriators agreed on $465 million for the F-35 alternate engine made by a team of GE and Rolls-Royce, according to an appropriations aide.

Pratt & Whitney, which makes the primary engine, and the GE-Rolls-Royce team have battled over the funding in a high-profile public-relations and lobbying campaign.

The defense appropriations bill contains about $30 million for termination costs of the VH-71 program. And it would give $100 million to Lockheed Martin to continue some work on the already-built helicopters to preserve the technology development.

“This funding will save about 250 jobs in Owego that would have been lost without it,” said Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), a defense appropriator whose district includes the Lockheed plant.

The Senate and House appropriators funded nine additional Boeing Super Hornet fighter jets.

They did not allocate any money to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the aide said.

The House looks to vote on a defense-spending bill by midweek, but the picture is less clear in the Senate, which is also trying to strike an accord on healthcare.

There is still a possibility that appropriators will have to craft another continuing resolution to fund the Defense Department until the Senate can agree on a time to vote on the bill. The Pentagon is currently funded through a continuing resolution that expires Dec. 18.

But Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told The Hill that he want the bill through the Senate as soon as possible.

“I want to go home for Christmas,” Inouye said.

Republicans, meanwhile, are criticizing the move by Democratic leaders to attach the debt ceiling to the bill.

A group of 174 House Republicans expressed their strong opposition to the decision in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday.


A cloudier climate picture?

Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have offered a climate bill that seeks to strike a populist chord by freezing out Wall Street banks from an emissions trading market.

Like other cap-and-trade bills under consideration, the Cantwell-Collins measure would force industries to hold carbon permits that companies could trade to meet their emissions targets.

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But it would focus on the “upstream” fuel producers, such as oil and coal companies, and not utilities.

It would also auction off the credits instead of giving them away as allowances during an early phase-in, as would the cap-and-trade bills that passed the full House and one Senate committee.

Only those entities covered by the bill could buy and sell the emissions credits, leaving Wall Street no access to a likely lucrative secondary trading market.

Some environmental groups prefer the Cantwell-Collins bill to the broader economy-wide cap-and-trade bills that have dominated discussion so far.

One advantage, supporters argue, is that the Cantwell-Collins bill is easier to understand. It is only 39 pages long. The House bill was well over 1,000. Supporters see fewer goodies to fossil-fuel industries in the Cantwell-Collins bill.

Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch called it a “more climate-friendly and consumer-friendly” bill. The measure returns 75 percent of the proceeds from an auction of pollution credits directly to consumers.

Ted Glick, policy director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said the bill was more transparent and would lead to more emission reductions because it doesn’t rely on offsets.

But environmental groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Defense Fund were more critical. EDF said the bill “discards too many cost-effective” ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Scott Segal, a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani, said the Cantwell-Collins bill shows that members of both parties aren’t sold on cap-and-trade proposals that have dominated the debate thus far.

“You might say that an economy-wide cap-and-trade bill is still in the lead, but only marginally so,” Segal said.

“It’s an important development in the debate because there is some mistrust of an economy-wide cap-and-trade program that sets up a $1 trillion securities trading market.”