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White House, Democrats Could Spar Over Weapons in War Bill

Top Democratic lawmakers may be on a collision course with President Bush over weapons spending in the fiscal 2007 supplemental spending request.

Later this week, the House Appropriations Committee will mark up the $100-billion-plus spending request, which is primarily intended to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Senate could approve its version next week. The Pentagon has said it needs the additional funds by no later than April 15 or else it could begin to run out of money to prosecute the wars.

Much of the debate in Congress has focused on troop-withdrawal timelines attached to the bill. But documents and interviews with lawmakers also highlight major differences emerging overs billions of dollars in weapons spending and how far Democrats are willing to go to reorder Pentagon priorities.

President Bush has recommended cutting $3.2 billion in the request marked for weapons systems, spending it instead on more immediate war requirements. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on air and land forces, said that more than double that amount of weapons spending should be shifted to other procurement accounts, including Navy shipbuilding.

Abercrombie told CongressNow on Friday that his subcommittee, at the prompting of House Appropriations defense subcommittee chairman Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), reviewed the president’s proposal and recommended cutting items that were not directly related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In the past, the Pentagon has gotten used to the idea of simply presenting supplemental budgets and having them pass virtually without commentary, let alone review,” Abercrombie said last week.

Abercrombie said his subcommittee reviewed the $20.4 billion marked for weapons procurement in its jurisdiction and found that more than $6 billion was “not emergency in nature.”

In a Feb. 20, 12-page letter to Murtha, only recently made public, Abercrombie laid out a host of programs that he believes could be cut. Among the top cuts are:

• $2.5 billion from the Army’s efforts to move to a more modular force.

• $721 million for buying Army Stryker vehicles

• $596 million for Abrams tank upgrades

• $521 million for Bradley Fighting Vehicles

• $389 million for two Air Force Joint Strike Fighters

Lawmakers have previously supported Army efforts to transition to a lighter and more mobile modular force by adding billions of dollars in war bills, but for fiscal 2008, Congress has told the Army that such a request should come in its annual budget request.

President Bush’s March 7 letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), which details recent revisions to the supplemental spending request, did not suggest taking any money from the Stryker vehicle, Abrams tank upgrade and Bradley Fighting Vehicles programs.

Abercrombie’s recommendation and Bush’s supplemental revision both eliminate Air Force funds to purchase the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. Lawmakers have questioned why the Pentagon would seek emergency money in fiscal 2007 for the JSF, which is not due to be fielded until 2010.

In addition, Bush says the administration will no longer seek $388 million for five Air Force C-130J cargo aircraft and $146 million for one Marine Corps CV-22 aircraft.

Abercrombie recommends several areas where funds should be shifted, including $2.2 billion to buy 460 humvee replacements, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. The revised presidential proposal seeks only $500 million more for MRAP vehicles.

Abercrombie also recommends that $250 million be used to buy an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. The Pentagon has sought to cancel the second engine program for the Joint Strike Fighter the past two years, but Congress added back money last year and is poised to do so again for fiscal 2008.

Abercrombie, whose district includes Pearl Harbor, also backs a $3.5 billion increase for naval shipbuilding. He said both Murtha and Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and expeditionary forces, backs the increase as well.

Taylor told CongressNow on March 7 that the extra money would purchase two new logistics vessels — an Amphibious Transport Dock ship and additional Auxiliary Cargo and Ammunition Ship — and increase spending on Navy submarines. The Navy currently builds one submarine annually, but Taylor and the other shipbuilding advocates have long sought to construct two underwater vessels per year.

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