House panel seeks to boost Pentagon war spending by $5B

The House Armed Services panel’s Defense authorization bill would hike Pentagon spending by $5 billion in 2014.

The increase would be used for spending on the Afghanistan war, and Republicans on the panel indicated it would make up for cuts to training and maintenance that have occurred over the last year due to sequestration.

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The legislation offered Monday by Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) includes $85.8 billion in war spending, an increase of $5.1 billion from the Pentagon’s 2014 budget request. In the bill, $4.5 billion of the additional funds go toward readiness accounts that pay for things like Air Force pilot training and Navy maintenance.

The Pentagon policy bill also rejects several cost-cutting measures proposed by the Pentagon, including a new round of base closures, a smaller pay increase for troops and new health fees.

The legislation will be marked up Wednesday by the full committee.

McKeon’s bill authorizes $526.6 billion in base Pentagon spending, which is equal to the Pentagon request — but $52 billion above the spending caps in the Budget Control Act. If the budget stays over the caps and sequester is not reversed, the Pentagon would face another across-the-board cut in 2014.

The Armed Services Committee is setting Pentagon spending at a higher level because it is following the House-passed budget, committee aides say. That budget increased defense spending in favor of cuts to non-defense discretionary spending.

But the House budget is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate, where Democrats have the majority.

Like the House budget, President Obama’s Pentagon plan is set at a higher spending level, but it cannot pass due to the tax increases included.

In addition to the $5 billion funding gap, the House panel’s sweeping authorization bill pushes back on a number of administration proposals and priorities.

McKeon’s bill rejected base closures and new healthcare fees for a second straight year, and also said no to a smaller pay raise for troops. The legislation includes the 1.8 percent raise that was also in the 2013 bill, and not the 1 percent bump proposed by the Pentagon.   

The measure once again includes a prohibition on transferring Guantánamo prison detainees to the United States, which has been included the past several years to help stymie Obama’s desire to close the prison.

The House bill also included funding for new barracks at Guantánamo to replace temporary facilities, in a nod to a more permanent facility there.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the panel, blasted the inclusion of the construction money in the bill.

“This is a ridiculous waste of money and we should be closing this expensive and unnecessary facility,” Smith said in a statement Monday.

Obama announced last month that he was restarting an effort to close the prison and would begin sending cleared detainees to Yemen.

Being able to move detainees to a facility in the United States, however, is a key step to closing Guantánamo.

The committee also included provisions to give Congress more oversight of counterterrorism operations, which have come under increased scrutiny from lawmakers. 

The panel would require the president to notify Congress of every “kill/capture” operation and require the Pentagon and White House to review groups and individuals considered “associated forces” of al Qaeda, which refers to individuals or groups with ties to the terror group that can be targeted with drone strikes.

On sexual assault, an issue that has generated a host of attention in recent weeks, the bill strips commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdicts and establishes minimum sentencing guidelines for sexual assault cases.

There has been a wave of bills proposed by lawmakers to deal with sexual assaults after a Pentagon report estimated there were 26,000 assaults last year. The bill includes a number of those measures, including plans to expand a victims counsel pilot program and provide new whistle-blower protections for victims.

The bill does not, however, go as far as some lawmakers are proposing to remove the decision to prosecute sexual assault cases from the chain of command, which committee aides have said could have unintended consequences on good order and discipline.

The committee is expected to consider amendments to take cases outside the chain of command on Wednesday, one day after the Joint Chiefs are testifying in the Senate on sexual assault.

The panel is also expected to consider adding $250 million to the bill to create a new East Coast missile site, a proposal that is backed by Republicans but opposed by most Democrats.

The $250 million for a third missile interceptor site was not included in McKeon’s markup Monday, although he does support it.

A group of 16 Republicans  on the committee wrote to House Defense Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) in April urging him to also include the funds in his bill this year. The Pentagon is currently conducting an environmental impact study on possible locations, which was required in last year’s Defense authorization bill.

Carlo Muñoz contributed.

This story was posted at 2:11 p.m. and updated at 8:26 p.m.