By John T. Bennett - 03/30/11 05:37 PM EDT
Calling the inaction “irresponsible” and warning of increasing costs, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) blasted Senate leaders Wednesday for failing to move a 2011 Pentagon spending measure.
“It baffles me that we have had two recesses, done a patent-reform bill, an FAA bill and a small-business bill but not a defense appropriations bill,” Collins told The Hill in a brief interview. “Those are all important things, but each one pales in comparison to a Defense Department bill.
Collins said she has had conversations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and White House officials about acting on a 2011 defense appropriations bill separate from a continuing resolution for the rest of the federal government.
She declined to disclose the details of those “private discussions,” but her efforts so far have proven fruitless.
A spokeswoman for Reid had not responded to an email seeking comment.
The House and Senate have yet to reach an accord to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year.
“If a [full] budget can’t be done, I hope that we will [take up] a DoD budget separately,” Collins said during the hearing.
Collins’s broadside on Senate leaders and White House officials came after senior Air Force officials warned that, without full funding, they will be unable to meet some battlefield needs.
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told the panel the service will be unable to buy enough General Atomics-made MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft for Afghanistan.
“Constraining MQ-9 procurement to 24 aircraft versus the 48 requested will delay our ability to reach the secretary of defense’s directed goal of 65 … combat air patrols by 2013” in Afghanistan, Donley said.
Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz warned that, without a full 2011 spending measure, they will be forced to raid hardware accounts to the tune of $3 billion to pay Afghanistan and Iraq war bills, healthcare costs and a 1.4 percent salary increase due military personnel.
Collins — in accord with senior Pentagon officials — says not giving the Pentagon a yearlong spending measure will increase costs. She and other lawmakers also have warned that DoD will be forced to take cost-cutting measures such as shedding jobs as the American economy continues to struggle.
Defense officials have warned Congress for months that without a 2011 appropriations bill of at least $540 billion, they will be forced to take several actions. Those include: avoiding awarding contracts for work on major weapon programs; skipping maintenance on warships and aircraft; and laying off workers at some facilities.
For the Air Force, staying at 2010 funding levels would also cause canceling some aircraft maintenance, “negatively affect” planned efforts like F-15 radar upgrades and force cost increases for a major satellite program.
And new bills are coming in every day.
The Air Force brass told the panel their service’s portion of the Pentagon's $550 million tab for the opening days of the Libyan military campaign was $50 million.
"The first thing we did" at the onset of the Libyan operation "was start tracking those additional costs," Donley told the Senate appropriators.
The air service has spent $4 million per day, depending on the expenditure of munitions, to pound Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's military, Donley said.
The service's costs should grow to about $70 million through the second week of the campaign, Schwartz said.
A Pentagon official on Tuesday told The Hill the U.S. military's tab for the opening days of the mission was $550 million. U.S. costs are expected to level out at about $40 million a month, the official added.
Lawmakers from both parties have raised concerns about the costs of the Libyan campaign as Washington wrestles with a fiscal crisis.
Schwartz said costs should come down for the Air Force and the entire U.S. military force should shrink as coalition aircraft take on more sorties, including "strike missions," meaning ones targeting Libyan military platforms and facilities.
The air service leaders told the committee internal White House and Pentagon deliberations about whether an emergency spending measure will be needed to pay for the Libyan campaign remain unresolved.