Military spending balloons amid bipartisan calls for cuts

The House Appropriations Committee has crafted a Pentagon spending measure that would swell military spending at a time when both political parties are clamoring for spending cuts.

That panel’s Defense subcommittee on Wednesday is expected to approve a Pentagon appropriations bill that includes $530 billion in base military funding. Another subcommittee already has approved a $14 billion military construction measure.

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Together, those bills total $9 billion less than the $553 billion the White House requested for the 2012 Pentagon budget. But the House’s proposed funding level would be an $11 billion hike from the 2011 Defense spending measure hammered out by White House and congressional leaders earlier this year.

“That’s real growth,” Gordon Adams, who ran defense budgeting for the Clinton administration, said Tuesday. “DOD must be delighted by this.”

The House subcommittee would trim the Obama administration’s $553 billion Department of Defense (DOD) request by slashing Pentagon research and development by $2.3 billion. It also wants to cut its operations and maintenance request by $780 million.

Much of the remainder would come from what the subcommittee on Tuesday called a series of “common-sense reductions” stemming from things like savings from delayed programs and “unjustified supply increases.”

“House appropriators appear to have found billions of dollars in savings without endangering troops or damaging core programs,” Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute said Tuesday. “Most of the savings result from using funds more efficiently and applying different economic assumptions. I expect minimal controversy.”

Adams predicted “Senate appropriators will likely come in lower, and a compromise will be somewhere in the middle.”

But in a GOP-controlled House, a $9 billion cut from the White House’s request “is about all they’re going to get,” said Adams, now with the Stimson Center.

The controversial budget plan put forward in April by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) did not call for Defense cuts.

It endorsed the administration’s proposed $553 billion funding plan, and called for more internal cost-cutting like the 2011 round that unearthed over $100 billion in savings that was redirected to hardware programs and deficit reduction.

But some pro-military Republican lawmakers say Defense cuts are necessary.

Senate Armed Services Committee member John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Monday he supports some Defense cuts.

“D’s want defense cuts; R’s want entitlement reform,” Cornyn said on Twitter. “Both must be on the table. Let’s be smart about it.”

The House appropriators’ bill — even while proposing growth over the final 2011 level — likely will not sit well with some Republicans.

This faction opposes any reduction of the Pentagon’s top line or overall base funding level. They howled when the compromise 2011 Defense spending bill was $18 billion smaller than the initial request.

“Given the tough security times we live in, and our troops engaged in three wars, cuts that treat defense as just a number on a chalkboard [are] worrisome,” one GOP congressional aide said via email Wednesday afternoon.

Freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a favorite of the Tea Party movement, said Washington should avoid Pentagon spending cuts as it tries to reduce annual deficits.

Washington is on pace to return the military to a time when the Army could not afford basic items such as toilet paper, West said during a forum at the Heritage Foundation.

Democrats were essentially silent Tuesday about the committee’s trajectory toward a proposed $544 billion spending measure, though some in the party are sure to say it is too large as the nation faces fiscal pressures.

Meantime, defense firms and military personnel stand to benefit from the subcommittee’s legislation.

The bill would cover a 1.6 percent pay hike for military personnel, the same as a House-passed Defense authorization bill.

It would provide $107.6 billion for procurement, $3.6 billion less than the Pentagon requested. But it would be an increase of $5.5 billion over the 2011 enacted level, according to an Appropriations Committee statement.

It would give the department $15.1 billion to buy 10 Navy ships; $5.9 billion to purchase 32 Lockheed Martin-made F-35s; $2.8 billion to buy 116 Sikorsky-manufactured Blackhawk helicopters; and $699 million to acquire 48 General Atomics-built MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft, according to the Appropriations Committee.

The legislation does not provide funding for a project to build a second F-35 fighter engine, a hot political issue in recent months. Prime contractors Rolls-Royce and GE have said they will self-fund the F136 engine through 2012; the Pentagon says it is too pricey and not needed.

Industry officials are concerned as annual Defense budgets come down, procurement and research and development accounts will be trimmed disproportionately to other federal spending lines.

Aerospace Industries Association President and CEO Marion Blakey, a former FAA administrator, last week said her organization has calculated that such “investment” spending needs to be around 35 percent annually to allow the U.S. military to ensure its “battlefield advantages” and to keep the defense industrial base healthy.

But the House panel pointed out in the statement that its research and development section would “fully fund” several big-ticket developmental hardware programs like the new Air Force tanker, the Navy’s new unmanned combat aircraft and the CH-53K helicopter program.

In the statement, the panel points to several “common-sense reductions” it is proposing be made from the White House’s request. That list includes $500 million for “unjustified supply increases,” $40 million in logistic support contract savings and $435 million from savings resulting from delays to the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) missile program.