Difficult Wars Leading to Record Pentagon Budget Compromise in Congress
WASHINGTON – Congress is poised to provide $70 billion more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as it adopts a record $448 billion budget for the Pentagon.
With Iraq alone costing about $8 billion a month, another infusion of funds will be needed next spring.
The House was slated to pass the Pentagon appropriations bill Tuesday night, with Senate action due before adjourning this weekend for the fall campaign.
The House-Senate compromise bill provides $378 billion for core Pentagon programs, about a 5 percent increase, though not quite as much as President Bush requested. The $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan is a down payment on war costs the White House has estimated will hit $110 billion for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.
With final passage of the bill, Congress will have approved $507 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan and heightened security at overseas military bases since the Sept. 11 attacks five years ago, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The growing price tag of the Iraq conflict is partly driven by the need to repair and replace military equipment worn out in harsh, dusty conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan or destroyed in battle. Almost $23 billion was approved for Army, Marine Corps and National Guard equipment such as helicopters, armored Humvees, Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles, radios and night-vision equipment.
Another $1.9 billion is for new jammers to counter improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill would be the first of 11 spending bills to clear Congress for the new budget year.
So little progress has been made on other bills that the Pentagon measure also carries a stopgap funding bill to keep open through Nov. 17 agencies whose funding bills won't have passed. Only the homeland security measure is expected to also pass before Congress leaves Washington to campaign.
The core bill contains $86 billion for personnel costs, enough to support 482,000 Army soldiers and 175,000 Marines. That would provide for a 2.2 percent pay increase for the military as President Bush requested in his February budget.
Another $120 billion would go to operations and maintenance costs, just less than the Pentagon request. And $81 billion is provided for procurement of new weapons, with another $76 billion dedicated to research and development costs.
That's still not enough for the White House, which requested $4 billion more. But House appropriators diverted that money to ease cuts in domestic programs. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a version shifting $9 billion to domestic programs but backed off in the face of a White House veto threat.
The sprawling measure contains good news for lawmakers from Maine, California and Missouri, among others. The bill includes $2.6 billion for two super-modern Navy DD(X) destroyers. That is significant because it would allow Bath Iron Works in Maine and Northrop Grumman's Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi to build one ship each.
A House-passed defense policy bill had called for only one DD(X) ship, to be built in Mississippi.
The measure also almost triples Bush's request for eight C-17 cargo planes, providing for 22 of the aircraft, which are built in Long Beach, Calif. Several components are manufactured at Boeing's St. Louis-based defense company.
But Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is assembled in Fort Worth, Texas, would face cuts. Bush requested five planes, but lawmakers cut that back to two, though funds are provided for advanced purchases of parts for 12 more.
Negotiators dropped Senate language sponsored by Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to provide $700 million for counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan.
"The Taliban draws its strength from the drug trade and in order to prevent it from reclaiming the country, we need to crack down the drugs that fuel its regime," Schumer said.