Senate panel approves $14 billion funding increase for Pentagon

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved defense legislation that trims more than $6 billion from the Pentagon’s 2012 budget request while providing almost $15 billion more than last year's bill. 

During a closed three-day mark up of the legislation, the panel cut $6 billion from the Pentagon’s base request of $553 billion, which a House-passed version of the legislation matched.

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The $547 billion is $14 billion more than the enacted 2011 funding level, despite cries from both parties for federal spending reductions.

The Senate committee cut the Pentagon’s $118 billion war funding request by $537 million, according to a summary released Friday by the panel.

In separate statements, Armed Services Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinCarl, Sander Levin rebuke Sanders for tax comments on Panama trade deal Supreme Court: Eye on the prize Congress got it wrong on unjustified corporate tax loopholes MORE (D-Mich.) and ranking member Sen. John McCainJohn McCainExperts warn weapons gap is shrinking between US, Russia and China McCain delivers his own foreign policy speech Republicans who vow to never back Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) pointed to the reductions from the requested amount proposed in the bill — but in different ways.

“In this time of fiscal problems for our nation, I am pleased that we were able to support our troops and their families while finding savings of more than $6 billion,” Levin said.

But McCain hinted the proposed cuts did not go far enough.

“Unfortunately, the committee chose to authorize millions of dollars in unnecessary and unrequested pork-barrel projects, and rejected my efforts to stop the out-of-control cost overruns of the F-35 program,” McCain said.

The panel settled on $6 billion in cuts to the base budget after receiving no direction from the Office of Management and Budget on how much of a White House-ordered $400 billion in cuts over 12 years should come in 2012, Levin told reporters.

The committee also would have preferred to craft its bill with spending caps typically set by the Senate Budget Committee, Levin said. That panel has yet to craft a 2012 budget resolution.

Despite his gripes, McCain voted in favor of the bill, calling it an “important piece of legislation while our country continues to be engaged in two wars.”

The legislation has no language that addresses keeping open or closing the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, Levin said.

Levin touted a provision in the legislation that would require the Pentagon to enter into a fixed-price arrangement with Lockheed Martin as they negotiate a low-rate initial procurement contract for the next batch of F-35 fighters.

That provision, Levin said, also would mandate the contract “require the contractor to absorb 100 percent of costs above the target cost."

The committee endorsed the Pentagon’s requested $9.7 billion for the F-35 program.

There is no funding approved for a second F-35 engine, and the full panel never discussed that program. The Pentagon wants to kill the alternative engine effort, saying it would waste billions; proponents say it would save monies over the long term.

Levin said the panel's language on the F-35 program would usher in a total "overhaul" in how those jets are purchased.

Levin said the panel discussed several options for the F-35, including one that would have required a change to the contract covering the planes the Pentagon is now buying. Ultimately, panel members decided re-writing a new contract would be too difficult.

He left open that the language in the bill could still be "strengthened" on the Senate floor if he can figure out how to apply it to the current contract.

The Armed Services Committee’s bill “does not prohibit” TRICARE fee increases. The Pentagon wants a small monthly hike in military healthcare fees for working-age retirees as Defense officials warn growing DOD personnel costs threaten to bleed the department dry.

The panel also proposes $3.2 billion for more blast-resistant vehicles that have helped pare U.S. military injuries and deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just weeks after U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden, the committee proposed $10.4 billion in unclassified 2012 funds for U.S. Special Operations Command, a 6 percent bump from 2011.

Even as lawmakers from both parties are questioning the costs and direction of the operation in Afghanistan, the committee agreed to clear the Pentagon to spend $400 million next year “to support large-scale infrastructure projects that enhance the counterinsurgency campaign,” according to the summary.

As U.S. military and intelligence operations increase in Yemen, the committee approves $500 million for “counterterrorism capacity building activities, including targeted efforts in East Africa and Yemen,” the committee said. 

And it approved $12.8 billion “for training and equipping the Afghan security forces to build their capacity to assume responsibility for providing security for the Afghan people,” the committee summary states. 

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With DOD transferring the lead agency role in Iraq to the State Department in January, the committee fully funded the Pentagon’s $524 million request for a special office in Baghdad that will coordinate all American weapon sales to the Iraqi military.

On major weapon acquisition programs, the panel fully funded most of the Pentagon’s requests for ships, missile defense efforts, ground vehicles, aircraft and other items.

SASC put its support behind a costly program to build a fleet of new nuclear-powered submarines by clearing the Navy to spend $1.1 billion on the effort. Pentagon and Navy officials have been working for months to pare the costs of the multibillion-dollar program.

It also signed onto the Pentagon’s $884 million request for the Army’s on-again-off-again Ground Combat Vehicle effort.

SASC fully funds the Pentagon’s desired $2 billion to help develop a new Air Force bomber.

The bill does trim $452 million from the request for an Army surveillance aircraft program that has been delayed.

The panel trimmed more than $1 billion from the department’s military construction and family housing budget blueprints, including $500 million from projects the panel found have been incrementally funded.

Additionally, the committee zeroed funding for a joint missile defense program the Pentagon has been developing with Italy and Germany. 

The Pentagon has announced already that it will not be purchasing that system, but wants to devote funds to ongoing research efforts.

The panel decided since no end product would be bought, it would be best to eliminate the remaining $800 million that would have been spent over the next two years, the chairman told reporters.