Senate panel OKs Pentagon funding, sets up fight with House

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday unanimously approved Pentagon spending legislation at a level that is $26 billion below what the Obama administration had sought.

The bill would give the Defense Department $513 billion in 2012, essentially freezing the department's annual budget for the second consecutive year. The Obama administration in February sought $553 billion in its Pentagon budget request.

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The House already approved a $530 billion 2012 Pentagon funding measure, meaning a House-Senate conference panel will have to determine a final funding amount.

The Senate panel’s spending measure, approved 29-1, proposes cutting $695 million from the Pentagon's $9.7 billion F-35 funding request. It would freeze F-35 production levels at the 2011 rate through 2013 because the test program could not use all the new jets.

The panel also approved a provision in the bill that would terminate the Army-Marine Corps' Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program. Other platforms would meet the services' needs, the bill states.

“Savings from [the JLTV] program help support Army and Marine Corps efforts to recapitalize and competitively upgrade Humvee fleets,” according to a summary of the bill released Thursday by the committee.

Several defense firms have been seeking the $20 billion JLTV contract.

The committee's bill followed other 2012 DOD spending bills by adding funds — $240 million — to let the Army to keep its Abrams tank production line open.

The service had proposed pausing production and later re-starting that line. Lawmakers in both parties from both chambers have objected, alleging that plan would cost more than just keeping it running.

The summary offers more detail — but not necessarily dollar figures — about other weapons program funding changes from the administration’s request that were not announced after the panel’s Defense subcommittee marked up and approved the bill Tuesday morning.

The bill would reduce funding for the Army’s multimillion-dollar Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program.

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The Northrop Grumman-led Defense Weather Satellite System program also would get a funding cut under the Senate bill, as would the often-troubled Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) and the Theater High Altitude Area Defense missile system, built by Lockheed Martin.

The panel has yet to disclose how much was trimmed from the administration’s funding request for each program.

The legislation also would cut $2.7 billion in “prior year funds that are excess to defense needs due to program terminations, schedule delays, or contract savings,” according to the summary.

The summary includes a note that it proposes to fully fund some big-ticket weapon programs, such as the Boeing-made EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft and the F/A-18 fighter; Boeing-made Chinook helicopters; Boeing-made Apache helicopters; the V-22 tiltrotor aircraft, made by Boeing and Bell Helicopter; and the P-8A reconnaissance plane, also made by the Chicago-based defense giant.

Additionally, the Senate panel proposed adding $500 million to buy equipment for the National Guard and Reserves, and wants to add $250 million for upgrades for the blast-resistant vehicles purchased for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The funds are needed to make the hardened trucks more survivable, according to the bill, crafted and passed Tuesday by the panel's Defense subcommittee.

The panel briefly debated two missile-defense-themed amendments offered by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). But at the urging of Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Kirk withdrew both. He said he will bring them up when either Defense spending legislation or a government-wide continuing resolution hits the Senate floor.

The panel also approved a $117.8 billion war-funding measure, matching the administration's request.