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$30 Billion Defense Supplemental Duplicates Spending

Pentagon might not need full request from Trump

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., probably didn't appreciate President Donald Trump trash-talking his alma mater, the University of Louisville, for losing in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., probably didn't appreciate President Donald Trump trash-talking his alma mater, the University of Louisville, for losing in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Pentagon may not really need the full $30 billion President Donald Trump requested last week for the current fiscal year.

That’s because Congress is already poised to provide a significant portion of the $30 billion in the fiscal 2017 Defense spending bill that the House passed on March 8. So that portion of the supplemental is redundant, congressional and Pentagon officials confirmed to CQ Roll Call.

The Pentagon does not have a tally of how much of its request duplicates what’s already in the final bill, but a CQ analysis shows it is in excess of $3 billion.

What’s more, lawmakers have already considered — and rejected — billions of dollars worth of other programs in the supplemental request, so those sections of the supplemental may not be funded either, but for the opposite reason. And paying for additional weapons is likely to require a change to the budget caps in law, diminishing the odds for those programs even further.

What is clear: If Congress needs to give the Pentagon any additional money beyond the $577.9 billion in the fiscal 2017 bill, it does not need to deliver a total of $30 billion extra.

“There are a number of instances of overlap on programs, which suggests to us that many of DoD’s top concerns are already addressed and additional systems may not be added even if a deal is reached to fund the supplemental,” Roman Schweizer, an analyst with Cowen Washington Research Group, told CQ Roll Call. Schweizer had highlighted the overlap in a policy note to investors last week.

Defense officials say they compiled the supplemental request before the final Defense bill was out, even though the legislation was made public two weeks before the supplemental request was released March 16.

“We will work with the congressional staff to deconflict our additional request from those items funded in the House-passed appropriations conference bill,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Badger, a Pentagon spokesman. A Senate GOP aide said those talks have already begun.

To be sure, Congress may not clear that Pentagon spending bill at all. In fact, the rancor triggered in Congress by Trump’s proposals to boost defense spending by scores of billions of dollars in fiscal 2017 and 2018 at the expense of nondefense programs may make it less likely that the Defense bill — or any new appropriations measure — becomes law.

But the Defense bill represents the will of Congress as expressed to date. In that legislation, House and Senate appropriators already agreed earlier this month to provide several billion dollars worth of ships and planes that were not in last year’s fiscal 2017 budget request but that the Pentagon said in last week’s supplemental request that it still needs.

Just as importantly, those same appropriators, in their final Pentagon spending bill, already rejected Pentagon pleas for billions of dollars in other unrequested programs that are nonetheless still listed in the March 16 submission.

The $30 billion supplemental is culled largely from wish lists the services have shared with Congress, so it was not so much a new request as a reiteration, in most cases, of longstanding requests in the form of “unfunded priorities” lists. CQ disclosed last month updated versions of those lists, the original versions of which came to Congress last year.

The clearest and most costly example of the after-the-fact nature of the new supplemental request is the Navy’s Super Hornet fighter jet program.

The previous administration had asked for money to procure two of the jets in fiscal 2017.

The pending Defense money bill would bankroll 12 more Super Hornets, for a total of 14 in fiscal 2017.

By comparison, the new supplemental request says the Navy needs 24 more Super Hornets. That means the Navy now wants 26 total Super Hornets (the two requested plus, the Navy hopes, 24 more).

But 14 of those 26 jets have already been okayed in the Defense spending bill. What that means is the Navy is really asking for 12 more, not 24 more, on top of what the pending bill provides.

If the Navy only needs 12 more, not 24 more, the service actually needs $1.1 billion — or half the $2.2 billion they asked for in the new request.

That math is repeated across the defense budget as the process unwinds.

And getting 26 total Super Hornets seems unlikely, given that Congress has already adjudicated the matter and rejected it.

Making things harder for the Super Hornet and other programs: the budget caps would need to be lifted to permit the funding.

Other weapons sought by the Pentagon in its new supplemental request — even though House and Senate appropriators have already said yes to those very weapons — include:

  •    $495 million for five Air Force F-35As;
  •    $433 million to keep building a destroyer warship;
  •    $340 million for 15 Blackhawk helicopters;
  •    $262 million for five Apache helicopters;
  •    $207 million for two C-40A airlift jets;
  •    $195 million for 12 MQ-1 drones;
  •    $160 million for two C-130 cargo planes; and
  •    $148 million for two V-22 tiltrotors.

Not only does the Pentagon not need money for those weapons in the supplemental that has already been approved for funding, it also is unlikely to get the weapons it seeks in the supplemental that appropriators have already turned down.

For example, the Navy is seeking six more P-8 surveillance planes for $920 million. Congress may agree to provide those. But if they do, it will be after having rejected the request previously — and they’ll have to raise the caps to pay for it.

It’s not clear when the Senate will act on the Defense money bill, but some kind of overall money measure must be enacted by April 28, when the current stopgap spending bill (PL 114-254) expires. If not, most of the government will shut down.

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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