The House of Representatives set the stage for a partisan fight over defense spending, passing legislation to give the Pentagon $607.1 billion in fiscal 2013 for weapons purchases, personnel and war operations in Afghanistan.
The 326-90 vote in the Republican-run chamber sets up a fight with the White House and the Democratic-controlled Senate, both of which want less defense spending.
The House defense appropriations bill would provide $24.5 billion less than current expenditures, reflecting the military drawdown in Iraq, and $2 billion more than President Barack Obama requested. Still, the House passed, 247-167, a bipartisan amendment trimming $1.1 billion from the version of the measure sent to the floor by the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee.
The sponsors of the amendment, Reps. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, and Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, said they wanted to freeze Pentagon spending at the current year’s level.
“When we are discussing cutting even the most basic social safety net programs, we think increasing the defense base budget makes all our exhortations about the deficit ring hollow,” Mulvaney and Frank said in a letter to colleagues before the vote.
“You may want to keep this letter. The chances of receiving one from a more unlikely pair of your colleagues in your time in Congress are probably pretty low.”
Their amendment won support from 158 Democrats and 89 Republicans.
The legislation rejects Obama administration proposals to delay or terminate several military programs, while providing funding for weapons the Defense Department has said it doesn’t want and didn’t request, including $1 billion for the Navy to build a third DDG-51 Aegis-class destroyer and $182 million for the Air Force to buy 21 RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 drones.
“As we continue to face threats to our safety and way of life, we must deal with the costs of war, keep our military at the ready and stay constantly vigilant,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said on the House floor.
White House officials have threatened a veto, saying in a June 28 statement of administration policy that House Republicans aren’t abiding by a deal on spending caps reached last year as part of a deal boosting the U.S. debt ceiling.
Higher spending than Obama sought will force cuts to domestic programs to stay within the limits, the administration said.
“By adding unrequested funding for defense, the House of Representatives departs from the bipartisan understanding reached a year ago,” the administration said, citing “negative consequences that will, for example, cost jobs and hurt average Americans, especially seniors, veterans and children — as well as degrade many of the basic government services on which the American people rely, such as air traffic control and law enforcement.”
Some Democrats have criticized the idea of spending more on defense because the government faces budget deficits and because military spending is scheduled for an automatic cut of $55 billion on Jan. 2 unless Obama and Congress reach agreement to avert it.
The budget cut, known as sequestration, is set to occur because talks failed last year on a bipartisan plan to curb the nation’s debt.
“Despite sequestration, despite budget pressures, despite the fragility of the economy, the Republicans still want to increase defense spending,” Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said on the House floor. Republicans are determined to lavish “canyons of cash” on outdated weapons systems that reflect the needs of the Cold War era, he said.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said any fiscal 2013 funds put under contract, or obligated, by Jan. 2 wouldn’t be subject to sequestration.
Among amendments adopted on the House floor was one from Texas Republican Ted Poe that would reduce military aid to Pakistan by $650 million, half the amount in the bill for the South Asian country.
Poe said the Pakistani government hasn’t been aggressive enough in fighting terrorists. “By continuing to provide aid to Pakistan, we are funding the enemy, endangering Americans and undermining our efforts in the region,” he said in a statement.
The bill’s remaining funding for Pakistan would be withheld until the secretaries of defense and state certified that the Pakistani government is cooperating with the U.S. in counterterrorism efforts, including against the Haqqani Network.
Other adopted amendments would:
- Prohibit funding to assist the governments of Iran and Syria, as well as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Prohibit funding to plan or implement an additional round of base realignment and closings.
- Transfer $40 million from operations and maintenance to research and treat spinal cord, brain and eye injuries and Gulf War illness.
- Prohibit funding to share classified information about missile defense systems with the Russian government.
- Prohibit funding for buying helicopters from Rosoboronexport, a company mostly owned by the Russian government, because of Russia’s support of Syria’s government in a civil war that has left thousands dead. The amendment was agreed to 407-5.
The annual appropriations bill is watched by defense contractors because it provides the dollars spent in the next fiscal year.
The House also has passed its annual policy, or authorization, legislation. The Senate hasn’t voted on its policy bill and the Senate Appropriations Committee hasn’t produced its spending measure.
Yesterday’s bill would provide virtually all the $9.1 billion requested by the Pentagon to buy 29 additional Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 fighters, the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, which has been buffeted by increased costs and delays.
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