House approves $649 billion in defense spending for 2012

The House on Friday approved $649 billion in defense spending for 2012 even as lawmakers consider massive cuts to the Pentagon in a deal to raise the debt ceiling.  

The chamber approved, by a 336-87 vote, a base $530 billion 2012 defense appropriations bill that, when added to a $14 billion military construction measure, would hand the Pentagon $544 billion next year. That would be $9 billion less than requested by the Obama administration in February, but $11 billion over the $533 billion enacted for 2011.

The legislation proposes defunding some military activities in Libya and keeping in place all U.S. aid for Pakistan.

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The House also approved legislation would allocate $119 billion to the Pentagon for overseas wars, a sum that is $842 million more than the Obama administration sought. 

The House’s proposed increase to the base defense budget comes as the Obama administration and Capitol Hill debt-ceiling negotiators mull options to cut national security spending by between $400 billion and $700 billion by 2023, according to congressional and defense-sector sources.

During three days of floor debate, the House defeated several amendments that would have trimmed the base funding and the war funding proposed in the legislation.

One of the most contentious moments came during debate over the U.S. and NATO military intervention in Libya.

The chamber took a step toward limiting U.S. involvement in the ongoing military operations, but opted against prohibiting any use of military force against Libya.

Members voted 225-201 in favor of an amendment from Tom Cole (R-Okla.) that would have prohibited funds from being used to furnish military equipment, training or advice or other support for military activities in Libya. That amendment was supported by 177 Republicans, but only 48 Democrats.

If signed into law, that language could end up prohibiting those activities in Libya once the 2012 fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, 2011.

Immediately after approving the Cole amendment, the House voted 199-229 against an amendment from Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) that would prohibit all funds from being used for military force against Libya.

Amash and Kucinich implored members to vote in favor of their language. 

Amash said it is "embarrassing" that President Obama is hiding behind explanations that there are no hostilities in Libya that require approval from Congress. Kucinich said the vote is "our moment to reclaim the Constitution of the United States," which holds that only Congress has the power to declare war.

Kucinich tried to push through multiple Libya funding measures, and all were defeated, though they drew ample GOP support.

House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.)  opposed them all, but gave Kucinich a nod on Friday for staying at it. “The gentleman entering the amendment is if nothing persistent,” Young quipped on the House floor.

Pakistan aid preserved

The House also took up several amendments that would have cut off $2 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan, and killed them. Two amendments were offered by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas). 

Poe, like other members, is highly critical of Pakistan, especially after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found and killed there.

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Lawmakers from both parties have called for cutting off aid to Islamabad or severely restricting it, but neither chamber has yet acted on those threats. Both of Poe's proposals failed. 

His first would have cut $1 billion in funds to Pakistan that the U.S. distributes to countries that are helping the U.S. in the war on terrorism. That failed on a 131-297 vote.

Poe's second amendment would have cut off another $1 billion in payments that the U.S. now makes to Pakistan for its counterinsurgency efforts. But that amendment also failed, in a 140-285 vote.

Industry dodges bullet

The House took up its Pentagon spending bill as the U.S. defense industry is steeling itself for big funding cuts after the Bush and Obama administrations ramped up national security spending in the decade after the 9/11 attacks. But, once again, the House-passed defense appropriations measure would be a win for defense firms and military personnel.

It proposes a 1.6 percent pay hike for personnel, the same as a House-passed defense authorization bill.

The legislation 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 fact sheet.

The measure 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 red-hot political issue for this Congress. Surprising some Defense sources, there was no attempt on the House floor to keep alive the second engine via an amendment.

Prime contractors Rolls-Royce and GE have said they will self-fund the F136 engine through 2012; the Pentagon has said for years that it is too expensive and operationally unnecessary.

There were virtually no amendments offered on the House floor targeting specific weapon programs.

The chamber on Wednesday evening defeated an amendment offered by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) that would have stripped $297 million for research and development work on a new Air Force bomber.

Welch questioned whether the multibillion-dollar aircraft initiative is affordable amid America's economic crisis. He also noted other federal agencies’ budgets have been targeted for significant reductions while the Pentagon has been kept “immune.”

On base

As the White House, Pentagon and lawmakers look for ways to generate savings in the defense budget, some are calling for changes in the way U.S. forces are positioned around the globe.

The House on Friday defeated, by a vote of 137-307, an amendment offered by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) that would have permanently brought home 50,000 U.S. troops now based in Europe. Polis’s provision would have mandated that 30,000 troops remain permanently stationed there.

Washington began basing forces on European soil in the wake of World War II and during the Cold War. But some lawmakers and defense experts say such a large U.S. military presence in Europe is no longer needed.

Polis said his plan would save over $800 million; Pentagon officials have not taken an official stance on the issue, but they have noted there would be immediate costs to build the facilities needed to permanently move large numbers of forces to the United States.