Spending bill tees up $491 billion for Pentagon

A House panel on Thursday unveiled a spending bill that would provide $491 billion to the Pentagon as members moved into the next phase of what has been a contentious budget process.

The House Appropriations Defense subcommittee measure, which lawmakers will mark up behind closed doors on Friday, represents an increase of $4.1 billion over the previous fiscal year and $200 million more than President Obama’s budget request, according to a summary that accompanied the 140-page bill.

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“Our first priority as a nation must be our national security and the protection of American interests at home and abroad. This bill provides critical funding for the security of all Americans, the success of our military missions and the fight against terrorism around the globe, and the safety and well-being of our troops who are bravely serving this country,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said.

Appropriators included a $79.4 billion placeholder for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, which pays for the war in Afghanistan. The defense authorization bill approved last week by the full House contained the same funding amount. However, the summary notes that no war budget has been submitted to Congress, “therefore this level is subject to change.”

The White House’s war funding request remains up in the air. Obama on Tuesday announced he plans to leave 9,800 troops in the country at the start of 2015, but that is contingent upon the Afghan government signing an agreement with the United States.

The spending bill expressly prohibits the transfer of detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to American soil and “denies funding to modify any facility in the U.S. to house detainees.”

Appropriators set aside $789 million to refuel the U.S.S. George Washington aircraft carrier, matching the amount in the defense policy bill. The White House had pushed to retire the vessel to save money, but that request has fallen on deaf ears in both chambers of Congress.

The bill also provides $14.3 billion for the Navy to purchase six ships.

The subpanel measure makes no mention of the Air Force's A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet. The Pentagon wants to retire the attack plane, commonly called the "Warthog" by service members, to save $3.5 billion over the next five years.

The proposal has become a flashpoint in the budget process, with members on both sides of the aisle railing against the idea.

While there is no reference to the A-10 in the preliminary legislation, appropriators could be taking a page from colleagues who did not address the fate of the 283-plane fleet until the full House Armed Services Committee convened. They kept the Warthog flying for at least another year by raiding $635 million from the yet to be determined OCO funds.

The rough copy includes $128.1 billion to pay 1,308,600 active duty troops and 820,800 members of the Guard and Reserve. That funding level is $669 million less than the previous fiscal year, yet still funds the full 1.8 percent pay raise for the military, rejecting the 1 percent increase sought by the administration. It also includes funding to maintain 100 percent of troop housing costs, according to the summary.

In addition, it restores the $100 million cut to commissary subsidies adopted last week by the full House.

The proposed measure marks $63.4 billion for research, development, testing and evaluation for new defense technologies, a reduction of $368 million from fiscal year 2014 and $171 million below the president’s request, the summary states. High-prolife programs that fall beneath the overarching effort include development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Ohio-class submarine replacement, and the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle.

In addition, the draft legislation contains $165 billion for operations and maintenance, roughly $1.4 billion below the Pentagon’s budget submission, and another $91.2 billion for equipment procurement, an increase of $1.6 billion over last year.

The measure would fully fund DOD’s sexual assault prevention programs to the tune of $275 million, a boost of $50 million from the level enacted in the last fiscal year.