Lawmakers overseeing defense spending are moving to block or modify deep cuts proposed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, setting up a key vote this week that could help determine the success of the administration’s attempt to shrink the Pentagon’s budget.
Excluding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the administration has proposed a $553 billion budget for the Pentagon next year — less than a 1 percent increase over what it requested for 2011 — and the House Armed Services Committee is expected to vote this week on the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill.
But the panel’s subcommittees last week voted to prohibit a proposed increase in fees paid by retired service personnel for Tricare, the military’s health program; set the stage for possible recompetition of the controversial engine for the Air Force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; and required studies before the Marine Corps can go ahead with a new proposed amphibious landing craft to replace the multibillion-dollar Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV).
The subcommittees have also added funds to programs that the Pentagon did not seek. For example, $425 million has been added to the proposed budget to keep production lines open for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Abrams M1 tank. The Pentagon had proposed shutting down those lines for three years to save money.
Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), speaking before the Heritage Foundation last week, said: “Folks, the defense industry cannot be turned on and off like a light switch. Shutting down production then restarting at a later date costs more than just keeping the lines open.”
Not all the changes approved by the subcommittees will go unchallenged.
For example, on the annual Tricare enrollment fees, McKeon plans to offer a compromise this week, outlining a proposal that would involve some increase in premiums but not as much as the increase Gates had sought. The defense secretary had proposed an increase of $2.50 a month for military retirees still working and under 65, and $5 a month for those with families. That would raise premiums to $520 a year for family coverage, and half that, $260 a year for singles.
Read more at The Washington Post.