Defense bill funds war and lots of pork

The House’s annual defense spending measure combines new funding for the war in Iraq with money to procure a fighter plane beset by cost overruns and with billions for lawmakers’ back-home projects.

The House easily passed the $427 billion Pentagon funding bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 by a 407-19 vote Tuesday night. The bill includes $50 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which comes on top of $66 billion for the two wars approved just last week.

The $50 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan will only provide a few months’ worth of funding and the Bush administration is likely to have to seek additional money for Iraq early next year.

The bill is $4 billion below President Bush’s request. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., shifted the money to domestic programs to ease budget cuts.

While the defense spending measure generally tracks Bush’s request, it includes changes such as $1.4 billion above his request in order to buy 20 F-22A warplanes. The program is beset with cost overruns and technical problems _ and questions about whether it’s needed at all now that the Soviet threat it was designed to counter no longer exists.

The Pentagon “has not demonstrated the need or value for making further investments in the F-22A program,” David Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

At the same time, the measure funds a host of expensive new weapons systems plagued by cost overruns and whose costs are set to explode as production ramps up. They include a new multipurpose Joint Strike Fighter, the Army’s next generation of combat vehicles, a missile defense system, new attack submarines and the troubled V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

The underlying bill is the largest spending measure passed by Congress each year. It funds a 2.2 percent pay increase for the military and Pentagon civilian personnel, which is less than the 2.7 percent increase for civilian federal employees mandated by another bill.

By the calculations of the Appropriations Committee, the bill contains $5 billion in funding sought by members for their home districts or to pursue projects not always related to defense.

Among the favorite targets of lawmakers for such projects are research and development accounts, which were funded at $2.2 billion above Bush’s $73 billion request.

For instance, the bill provides $32 million for a bone marrow registry established by Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., that matches donors with leukemia victims needing marrow transplants.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., mounted an assault on several projects sought by colleagues, including $2.5 million for a technology center sought by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., to help emerging companies to develop technologies for the Navy. He lost by sweeping margins.

The White House on Tuesday issued a policy statement complaining that the bill is underfunded because of the shift of $4 billion in defense funding to domestic programs.

At the same time, lawmakers cut personnel and operations and maintenance accounts by almost the same amount and Congress is likely to restore those cuts in a future emergency bill. Budget hawks say emergency war funding bills are being used in this way to ultimately ease the funding crunch on domestic programs.

© 2006 The Associated Press