Senate defense bill includes deeper cuts than House version
WASHINGTON — Senate defense leaders on Tuesday proposed dramatic cuts to the Defense Department’s budget request for fiscal 2012, including ending the joint light tactical vehicle program and delaying the production of new F-35 aircraft.
The $513 billion base budget plan is $26 billion less than White House officials requested last spring and $17 billion less than the House approved in July. It does not include almost $118 billion in funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that is included in separate legislation.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, acknowledged that the lower defense spending would be considered “tough” by many military planners, but added that “we believe [the changes] are not only fair but prudent, and represent an important step in improving the department’s fiscal accountability in this difficult budget environment.”
Future defense spending has already come under close scrutiny on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers agreeing to at least $350 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade. A supercommittee looking at $1.2 trillion in additional federal cuts could scale back those military dollars even further.
Inouye said the fiscal 2012 proposal, which keeps military funding steady from this year’s spending levels, starts those tough choices without compromising national security.
Many of the cuts from the White House plan, he said, come from “program terminations, schedule delays, program changes … or corrections to poor fiscal discipline.”
The changes include a $5 billion in savings found through troops reductions in Afghanistan, $2 billion in Army maintenance funds deemed “excessive,” and $1.2 billion from delaying F-35 production by two years.
It also would end the joint light tactical vehicle program, due to “excessive cost growth and constantly changing requirements,” Inouye said.
The program has been charged with developing a stronger, lighter alternative to Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, but remains years away from completion. House appropriators had already recommended cutting $50 million from the program’s $211 million budget request, but the senators opted to drop the whole program instead.
Senate planners said the money would be redirected to other vehicle programs with better results and lower costs.
The new budget plan still must be approved by the full Senate and reconciled with the House plan before it becomes law.
That could be a lengthy fight. Across Capitol Hill on Tuesday, at another committee hearing, House Armed Service Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., again vowed to fight excessive defense spending cuts simply to stabilize the federal budget situation.
“I remain concerned that our nation is slipping back into the false-confidence of a Sept. 10th mindset, believing our nation to be secure because the homeland has not been successfully attacked, believing that we can maintain a solid defense that is driven by budget choices, not strategic ones,” he said.
The reconciliation process isn’t expected to start before the end of the fiscal year. That means Congress will likely have to approve a temporary budget for the Defense Department — and most of the rest of government — until a final solution is reached.
Last year, that temporary budget process dragged on for nearly seven months, stalling numerous military programs and nearly resulting in a government-wide shutdown.
One point of agreement in both chambers is the pay raise for troops set for January. Both House and Senate leaders have already signed off on a 1.6 percent increase for next year’s military pay.
That figure would be slightly above this year’s 1.4 percent boost but roughly half of the typical increases servicemembers received during the last decade.