By John T. Bennett
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday evening passed a government-wide spending measure that would give the Pentagon nearly $600 billion to buy new weapons, address readiness problems and fight America’s wars. The final vote tally was 72-26.
The omnibus spending measure passed the upper chamber easily, despite a sometimes-contentious floor debate. President Barack Obama says he will sign the bill, which will give the Defense Department $572 billion in total spending, and another $85 billion in war funds.
The lawmakers who negotiated the omnibus deal, House and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairs Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., are hailing the measure as clear evidence Congress is ready to get back to “regular order” after years of partisan stalemate.
“This agreement shows the American people that we can compromise, and that we can govern. It puts an end to shutdown, slowdown, slamdown politics,” Mikulski said. “I’m pleased that this agreement includes all 12 appropriations bills. For the first time since 2011, no mission of our government will be left behind on autopilot.”
The floor debate was sometimes raucous in the upper chamber, with defense hawks from the Armed Services Committee slamming a provision in the classified annex that would mandate the US armed drone program remain under the CIA’s control.
“The Appropriations Committee has no business making this decision,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on the chamber floor. “How many of my colleagues knew this provision was in this mammoth appropriations bill? I’ll bet you a handful. The job of the Armed Services Committee and the job of the Intelligence Committee is to authorize these things.”
Because there were no amendments allowed, the provision is headed toward becoming law.
The omnibus includes a full 2014 Pentagon appropriations measure that would provide nearly $93 billion to buy new weapons.
The Defense Department would get $63 billion for research and development (R&D) projects, an area senior officials have warned isn’t funded enough. That is almost $7 billion less than the department got in 2013. The White House had asked for $99.3 billion for Pentagon procurement, and $67.5 billion for R&D.
For weapon programs, the Pentagon appropriations section of the bill contains few surprises. For the most part, it’s a rubber stamp for the Obama administration’s spending goals.
Analysts are labeling the 2014 Pentagon spending measure a win for the Pentagon and industry. Some have done advanced math, and say the measure would give the department over $600 billion in total fiscal 2014 monies.
“The final appropriation is an increase of $2.5 billion over the [fiscal] 2013, post-sequester enacted level, but a decrease of approximately $32 billion below the administration’s budget request of $552 billion,” Kingston Reif, Laicie Heeley and John Isaacs wrote for the Council for a Livable World.
“In addition, the bill provides $85.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for the war in Afghanistan, an increase of $5.8 billion above the budget request, for total national defense appropriations of $605.7 billion,” they wrote in a white paper.
“The OCO increase softens the blow to the base Pentagon budget relative to the budget request, since OCO funding can be used to pay for activities that are normally base budget activities without breaching the budget caps set by the Ryan-Murray deal.”
The measure would provide billions for Navy shipbuilding, Army aviation, missiles and vehicles, and Air Force aircraft and missiles. That includes the Virginia-class submarine program, Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, F/A-18 fighters, the F-35 fighter, a list of Army helicopters, armed and surveillance drones, and terrorist-targeting Hellfire missiles.
It also funds the Air Force’s replacement for the Pave Hawk helicopter.
The Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) receives $333,558,000 as a “congressional special interest item,” giving life to a program Air Force officials have acknowledged is needed, but not a top priority.
The National Guard and Reserve also would score big, receiving $1 billion “for procurement of aircraft, missiles, tracked combat vehicles, ammunition, other weapons and other procurement,” according to the omnibus bill.
Mirroring the base Pentagon budget section of the omnibus, the OCO section features $669 million for Army aircraft purchases. The Army also would receive $653 million to buy other equipment, and a $128.6 million allotment for missiles.
Within those accounts, $386 million is slated for Boeing CH-47 helicopters; $142 million for Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters; $54 million for Lockheed Martin Hellfire missiles; and $117 million for upgrades to Bell OH-58 helicopters.
One analyst and industry consultant said the Army and industrial base will benefit from the aircraft funds.
“The Army’s revised base budget for 2014 cuts procurement by 10 percent from the original request, so the additional funding under OCO for rotorcraft purchases is important to sustaining a viable industrial base,” said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. “Boeing Vertical [the new name of its rotorcraft unit] and Bell Helicopter Textron look to be major beneficiaries of OCO procurement funds.”
The trillion-dollar, government-wide omnibus spending measure crafted by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees includes $5 billion more for America’s overseas conflicts than requested by the White House.
Included in the $85 billion war-funding section, is more than $6 billion in procurement funds spread across the Defense Department.
“It appears Congress used the OCO loophole to increase the base defense budget without breaching the budget caps they just agreed to,” said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
“The cuts from [operations and maintenance accounts] and procurement in the base budget were largely offset by corresponding increases in the OCO budget, which doesn’t count against the budget caps,” he said. “This is nothing new — Congress and DoD have been using this tactic to soften the impact of budget constraints for several years now.”