House panel advances $579 billion Pentagon funding bill

House panel advances $579 billion Pentagon funding bill
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The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday advanced a $579 billion bill to fund the Pentagon in fiscal 2016, which begins Oct. 1.

Republicans are proposing to circumvent budget caps that are set to return in October by boosting the Pentagon’s war fund to $88 billion, about $38 billion above President Obama’s own request. The additional funds are not offset.

During the markup Tuesday, Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) offered an amendment that would shift that extra war funding back into the base budget. Republicans, however, warned it couldn’t be done because it would violate sequestration budget ceilings.

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“The overseas contingency fund has exploded beyond any reasonable measure of what a contingency fund should be,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), an appropriator, said in support of the amendment.

A day earlier, White House Budget Director Shaun DonovanShaun L. S. DonovanHouse Dems call on OMB to analyze Senate budget plan Overnight Finance: Dems turn up heat on Wells Fargo | New rules for prepaid cards | Justices dig into insider trading law GOP reps warn Obama against quickly finalizing tax rules MORE also criticized the use of the war fund in a letter to the leaders of the Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers acknowledge they wouldn’t need to rely on the war fund if Congress reached a new budget deal to ease sequestration spending caps next year.

“I wish with all my being that we could lift sequestration to some degree,” Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said, adding that it’s not the committee’s responsibility.

“Until the powers that be--White House, leadership in the House and Senate--until those three entities come together and reach some accommodation, some understanding, we’re bound by the Budget Control Act. I wish it were otherwise,” Rogers added.

Visclosky also said lawmakers were constrained by the caps.

“Until the president and Congress stop whistling past the graveyard, and confront the continued growth in mandatory spending, while simultaneously increasing revenues, this committee under Chairman Rogers' leadership has no choice but to carry out an implausible mandate contained in the [Budget Control Act of 2011],” he said.

Beyond issues over the bill’s funding levels, the bill would provide a 2.3 percent pay raise for the military instead of President Obama’s 1.3 percent increase.

It also includes funding for the military to purchase Navy ships, guided missile destroyers, Blackhawk helicopters, tanker aircraft, F-35 aircraft and combat ships, among other things.

The funding bill, like the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets out defense policy, would block funds from being used to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay to U.S.-based facilities.

Despite an attempt by the Air Force to retire the A-10 Warthog, a Cold War-era jet that provides close air support for ground troops, the funding bill ensures that the aircraft remains in service.

— Kristina Wong contributed.