House committee passes $512 billion defense bill
May 5, 2006
WASHINGTON — Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan would see more radio jammers, flight patrols and Humvee armor under a budget proposal designed to “take back the roads,” House leaders said Wednesday.
The $512.9 billion budget, passed 60-1 by the House Armed Services Committee, is more than $73 billion above what Pentagon officials and the president requested.
Most of that difference is $50 billion inserted by House officials to pay for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in an effort to avoid the semiannual emergency spending bills Congress has faced in recent years.
But anti-IED devices and other force-protection measures also make up a large portion of the difference. The measure would set aside $110 million for radio frequency jamming devices, including $69 million for smaller handheld models which can be used by foot patrols.
Another $100 million would pay for 10 manned persistent surveillance aircraft, to patrol roads where IEDs have been a recurring threat.
“These surveillance [aircraft] will be tactical assets controlled by ground commanders in combination with quick reaction forces to prevent IED emplacement and secure the roadways,” said committee chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. “The goal is to create the expectation that IED emplacement is a suicide mission for the enemy.”
Another $1 billion would be spent on up-armored Humvee protection and improvements, including $364 million for gunner protection kits and related items. Plans call for $930 million more to be used for body armor research and production.
In addition, the committee set aside $100 million more for operation and maintenance funds for foreign military forces participating in operations with U.S. troops, a move members said was designed to help coalition partners deal with their war costs.
An amendment added late Wednesday night would pay for full Servicemembers Group Life Insurance coverage for all troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under current rules the Defense Department pays for $150,000 of SGLI coverage for every servicemember in a combat zone, but those who wanted a full $400,000 in insurance had to pay another $16.25 a month to cover the difference. The new language would cover the full $26 monthly bill for those troops.
The House also authorized an increase in the active Army end strength to 512,400, about 10,000 more soldiers than currently on duty and 30,000 more than the service’s projection for fiscal 2007. At minimum, the House proposal calls for at least 504,400 soldiers, about 2,000 more than the current number.
The plan also calls for an active-duty Marine force of 180,000, roughly equal to the current force and about 5,000 above what that service had aimed for next year.
House officials also backed previously announced plans to raise all military pay by 2.7 percent next fiscal year, above the 2.2 percent in the Pentagon recommendations.
Another provision would allow troops who receive permanent change of station orders into or out of a “non-foreign area outside the continental United States” — places such as Hawaii, Alaska or Guam — to take with them up to two personal vehicles.
Committee members said that change is an effort to be more considerate of troops with families, who may need more than one car in their daily work lives. The proposal is expected to cost about $30 million.
Senate Armed Services Committee officials were expected to unveil their budget priorities later Thursday. After that, both full chambers will vote on the proposals and must resolve differences in a conference committee before sending the final bill to the president.
Other items in the House budget proposal
Renaming the Navy: An amendment adopted Thursday would change the name to “The Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.”
New Tricare Reserve fees: Drilling reservists would pay a flat fee, rather than a tiered approach, for the health care.
Emphasis on language: A pair of studies would examine how to better teach foreign language and foreign culture to U.S. troops.
Reserve disability pay: Reservists who receive a Purple Heart would be eligible for payouts based on their total years of service, instead of just their active-duty years.
Transporting the fallen: Military planes, not commercial flights, must be used to transport caskets to their final resting place.
DOD civilian compensation: Defense employees killed while working in a combat zone would be eligible for a military death gratuity of $100,000.
— Leo Shane III