By John T. Bennett - 09/25/11 10:23 AM EDT
A House-passed stopgap spending measure would trim annual Pentagon funding by more than $7 billion from the current level and prohibit the Defense Department from starting new weapon programs.
The lower chamber’s 2012 continuing resolution calls for a 1.4 percent reduction to the Pentagon’s budget from the $533 billion it got in 2011, which would put the military’s base funding at around $526 billion. The Senate on Friday tabled the measure over issues not tied to Pentagon spending.
Officials have said they requested less in war funding because of the planned removal of most American troops from Iraq this year, and the removal of 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Defense consultant Jim McAleese said firms that provide a range of services in Iraq and Afghanistan will feel an “immediate impact” of that reduction.
The stopgap’s Pentagon funding level of $527 billion is around $3 billion less than what was proposed in the DoD appropriations bill the chamber approved in July. But it is $14 billion more than the measure approved last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The DoD budget is set to continue shrinking under a deal hammered out by the White House and congressional leaders in August as part of the debt-reduction measure. That agreement called for $350 billion in cuts through 2023.
A senior congressional aide told The Hill this week that the defense committees have struggled setting a top line Pentagon funding amount for 2012. That’s because their requests that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) detail how much should be cut in 2012 have gone unanswered.
“Yes, we’ve asked them!” the senior aide, clearly agitated, said this week. Asked what OMB’s response has been, the aide replied: “Nothing, that’s what.”
The stopgap also prohibits the department from using its funds to start new development programs or to increase production rates above 2011 levels.
‘We won’t just sit back’
Senate Armed Services Committee members pressed Pentagon leaders on Iran’s efforts to shape political developments in Iraq.
“Are we creating a vacuum that Iran is rushing to fill?” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on Thursday.
Mullen told the panel that U.S. officials believe Iran has been supplying Tehran-backed Shiite militias in southern Iraq with increasingly lethal weapons that have been used in attacks on Sunni and American targets.
When Washington sent word to Iranian officials that the arms shipments and other meddling in Iraqi affairs must end, Iranian officials initiated a “hiatus” period, Mullen said.
But U.S. commanders in Iraq have told Pentagon officials they are confident “Iran is not going away.” That’s why American forces have launched attacks on those Iran-back groups in southern Iraq, Mullen said.
The chairman, who next week will retire, issued a blunt warning to Tehran: “If they keep killing our troops, we won’t just sit back and watch.”
It turns out the Defense Department’s budget-cutting will not stop at its own budget.
Mullen acknowledged to the Senate panel that Pentagon officials are aware they have built an Afghanistan military that Kabul cannot even come close to affording.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said the U.S. erected a university for the Afghanistan military that would alone cost “$40 million a year to operate and maintain.”
Pentagon officials “recognize” that Kabul cannot afford the $12 billion per year that the military the U.S. has helped build is estimated to cost, Mullen said.
U.S. and Afghanistan officials believe Kabul can only afford a military that costs “70 to 80 percent” less each year, Mullen said, adding the two sides are examining ways to bring down those costs.
Replacing Air Force One
Budget shrinkage also dominated the Air Force Association’s annual Washington conference, and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley warned the service has some big needs.
He vowed to protect the service’s top hardware programs during a Monday speech, then threw in a twist. Donley included in that list a coming need to start a “presidential support aircraft” program.
That’s Pentagon-speak for an initiative to design and build a replacement to the current Air Force One fleet. The new presidential jet will need to be ready in the late 2010s, Donley said.
He mentioned what is considered a must-be-done program that will cost billions to let budget-cutters know that the Air Force’s budget can only be trimmed so much.