House Panel Advances $579B Defense Funding Bill For 2016

A House panel on Tuesday advanced its nearly $579 billion Pentagon spending bill for 2016, leaving the legislation effectively unchanged from a draft version, including a contentious clause allowing the use of billions of dollars in wartime funding to circumvent sequestration-level spending caps.

The House Appropriations Committee agreed by voice vote to send the fiscal year 2016 Defense Appropriations Act on to the full House, after a two-hour markup hearing that ultimately saw it adopt only two amendments.

The adopted amendments included one with minor technical changes put forward by Defense Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., and another put forward by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to offer a “sense of Congress” that it has the constitutional duty to debate and then determine whether to authorize any use of U.S. military force against the Islamic State group. That amendment passed in a 29-22 vote.

Overall, the bill provides $578.6 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Defense, $24.4 billion up on FY2015 and about $800 million up on the presidential budget request. About $88.4 billion of this would come from Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, funding — referred to by the committee as Global War on Terrorism funding — which is supposed to be used to fund war spending.

Of that overall funding, $116.7 billion would go to procurement, $12.5 billion more than in 2015, with planned acquisitions including two DDG-51 guided missile destroyers and three Littoral Combat Ships for the U.S. Navy, 65 F-35 Lightning II jet fighters across the services — among other jet acquisitions — and a number of large aircraft, including 16 P-8A Poseidons and 12 KC-46 tankers.

Pentagon research and development efforts would receive $67.9 billion, a $4 billion increase, much of which is intended to support aircraft development, including the continued development of the F-35 and the RQ-4 Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a new U.S. Air Force bomber and the next-generation Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System command and control plane.

The bill would also provide a 2.3 percent pay raise for troops, higher than the 1.3 percent increase suggested in the administration’s proposal, and would maintain funding for the A-10 close air support aircraft, which has been put on the chopping block by the Air Force several times in recent years, drawing strong pushback from lawmakers in both chambers, who argue that there is no adequate replacement available for the “Warthog.”

Although the bill, unlike other House appropriations bills put forward for 2016 so far, meets and even exceeds the presidential budget request, it has drawn criticism from both Democratic lawmakers and the administration, particularly for its extensive use of OCO funding — about $38 billion more than requested in the presidential budget — to get around the strict sequester budget cap.

The White House had yet to issue an official policy statement on the legislation as of Tuesday, but has previously threatened to veto the similar 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which is used to authorize budget authority for the DOD, citing its heavy use of OCO funds, among other factors.