A Tale of Two Wish Lists

The Pentagon and Congress will have to compete over limited cash.

A U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules delivers supplies by parachute to members of the Zabul Agribusiness Development Team, near Combat Outpost Mizan, in Zabul province, Afghanistan, Dec. 19, 2011. 
National Journal
Stacy Kaper, Jordain Carney and Sara Sorcher
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Stacy Kaper Jordain Carney Sara Sorcher
March 20, 2014, 1 a.m.

Nobody in Wash­ing­ton is happy with the de­fense budget cuts com­ing next year. But the Pentagon and mem­bers of Con­gress each have their own ideas about how to spend any ex­tra cash.

The Pentagon is hop­ing to min­im­ize the full im­pact of the budget cuts with some ex­tra fin­an­cial pad­ding. It has re­ques­ted a budget of $496 bil­lion for next year — which meets the budget caps Con­gress im­posed — but the Pentagon has also sub­mit­ted a hefty wish list of pro­grams it wants if Con­gress can find an ex­tra $26 bil­lion.

However, not all of law­makers’ pet pro­jects are in the Pentagon’s base budget or even its wish list. Mem­bers of Con­gress are de­cry­ing the Pentagon’s pro­posed cuts to de­fense pro­grams that could cause them polit­ic­al pain in their dis­tricts — and they des­per­ately want to get them fun­ded.

Na­tion­al Journ­al has out­lined some of the key pri­or­it­ies the Pentagon and Con­gress have in their du­el­ing wish lists — and what they would cost.

Of course, this ex­tra cash is fic­tion­al, at least for now. There’s no room in the budget, and Con­gress may not change the law to give the Pentagon more money to spend. If mem­bers in­sist the Pentagon must fund their pri­or­it­ies any­way, the Pentagon would have to in­stead slash oth­er pro­grams in the main budget it con­siders cru­cial.

What’s in Con­gress’s Wish List?

Re­lated story: In De­fense Budget Hun­ger Games, Fights Ahead on Cap­it­ol Hill

Law­makers want to …

Keep the A-10

The Pentagon wants to re­tire the A-10 air­craft fleet to make room in its budget for oth­er air­craft, such as the F-35 fight­er jet. This would save $3.7 bil­lion over five years. (The De­fense De­part­ment could po­ten­tially save an­oth­er $500 mil­lion if a wing-re­place­ment pro­gram is also can­celed.) Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hamp­shire Re­pub­lic­an whose hus­band was an A-10 pi­lot, and sen­at­ors whose states are home to the A-10s, such as Re­pub­lic­ans Saxby Cham­b­liss and Johnny Isak­son of Geor­gia and John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona, have all raised ob­jec­tions. They ar­gue the re­place­ment won’t be ready im­me­di­ately and that the air­craft, which ex­cels at close air-sup­port mis­sions, have been im­port­ant for sav­ing lives in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan.

Re­verse cuts to mil­it­ary pay and be­ne­fits

The Pentagon has been try­ing to rein in its grow­ing per­son­nel costs for a dec­ade, but it has made little pro­gress with a res­ist­ant Con­gress, which views cuts to mil­it­ary troops’ pay and be­ne­fits polit­ic­ally un­pal­at­able. The Pentagon is pro­pos­ing a slew of re­forms that would slash its health care be­ne­fits, cap or freeze pay raises, and re­duce the hous­ing al­low­ance and com­mis­sary be­ne­fits — for a net sav­ings of $11.9 bil­lion over five years. But law­makers led by House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Buck McK­eon are again drag­ging their heels, ar­guing Con­gress should await the res­ults of a com­mis­sion it set up, which is slated to come out with com­pre­hens­ive re­com­mend­a­tions next year to over­haul the mil­it­ary re­tire­ment and com­pens­a­tion sys­tem.

Avoid base clos­ures

The Pentagon is call­ing for an­oth­er round of base clos­ures to be­gin in 2017. The U.S. is re­du­cing the size of its mil­it­ary force as it ends an era of war in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan, and the Pentagon wants to get rid of in­fra­struc­ture it no longer wants or needs. The move is ex­pec­ted to cost $6 bil­lion ini­tially but then save $2 bil­lion each year af­ter­ward. But no law­makers want to see a base close in their dis­tricts. Among those scream­ing bloody murder about how the clos­ures would af­fect jobs and the loc­al eco­nomy are Ayotte and fel­low Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hamp­shire, along with Sens. Richard Blu­menth­al and Chris Murphy and Rep. Joe Court­ney, all Con­necti­c­ut Demo­crats.

Keep the LCS pur­chases in­tact

The Pentagon is scal­ing back its planned buy of Lit­tor­al Com­bat Ships from 52 ships down to 32. The con­tro­ver­sial ves­sel is no­tori­ous for its his­tor­ic delays and cost over­runs, and the Pentagon has com­mis­sioned a force to de­term­ine wheth­er it should build any more, modi­fy them, or sub­sti­tute an­oth­er small sur­face com­batant ship that might be bet­ter. Law­makers like Reps. Brad­ley Byrne, R-Ala., and Re­id Ribble, R-Wis., who rep­res­ent re­gions where jobs are tied to the ships’ build­ing and con­tracts, are lob­by­ing the White House dir­ectly not to cut the or­ders

What’s in the Pentagon’s Wish List?

Re­lated story: The Pentagon’s Up­hill Budget Battles

The Pentagon wants …

Train­ing


The Army wants an ex­tra $1.8 bil­lion to ramp up train­ing in or­der to make sure troops are as pre­pared as pos­sible for mil­it­ary op­er­a­tions.

Apache heli­copters

The Army wants to buy 26 ad­di­tion­al Apache heli­copters, which have been used in the Afgh­anistan and Ir­aq con­flicts. The cost to buy them would be $600 mil­lion.

Po­s­eidon planes

The Pentagon is ask­ing for $1.1 bil­lion to buy eight P-8A Po­s­eidon planes for the Navy. The mari­time war­fare air­craft can be used to hunt sub­mar­ines, to gath­er in­tel­li­gence, or — as they are cur­rently do­ing — to try to find a miss­ing plane.

Reap­er drones

The Air Force wants 12 MQ-9 Reap­ers. These armed, un­manned air­craft are primar­ily used for in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing, but they are also de­signed for pre­ci­sion strikes. The ad­di­tion­al planes would cost $200 mil­lion.

C-130 air­craft

The Air Force is ask­ing for an ad­di­tion­al $1.1 bil­lion to buy 10 C-130 trans­port air­craft. The plane is fre­quently used for drop­ping troops and sup­plies in­to en­emy ter­rit­ory.

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