Also on Monday, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, released his version of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, which tops Obama’s budget request by $3.7 billion.
All three proposed defense budgets are above the bipartisan level set by the Budget Control Act (BCA), setting the stage for a showdown later this election year. That is when Congress must approve deficit reductions totaling $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, through additional spending cuts or revenue increases, or both. Otherwise, under current law, across-the-board cuts, including more than $500 billion in defense spending over 10 years, will begin to take effect in January 2013.
While defense spending may not become a central issue in the presidential campaign, some of the Republican-proposed increases have clear political implications. The proposed extra $1 billion for Israeli systems includes $680 million in the 2013 authorization bill for the Iron Dome system that has proved effective in knocking down short-range rockets fired into Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza. That money is to be spent over four years. It will be a hard item for the White House to oppose in an election year, because it already has bipartisan support.
A controversial Obama proposal to reduce the number of aircraft and reassign personnel in the Air National Guard and Reserves is the focus of both Republican panels, with the appropriators seeking to add $590 million but delaying its spending while Congress and the Government Accountability Office study the issue. The McKeon panel, however, would simply add more than $500 million to “preserve tactical airlift” capabilities provided by Guard and Reserve aircraft that Obama proposed to retire early.
The House GOP authorizers proposed an additional $460 million to begin planning and development of a new U.S. missile defense site, “potentially on the East Coast.”
House Republicans, however, appear to accept the Obama plan to reduce the size of the Army by some 80,000 and the Marines by 20,000 over the next five years, though the authorizers slow it down some. That comes as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, is calling for increasing U.S. troop levels by 100,000.
While both House panels want increases in the Obama shipbuilding program, neither comes close to the Romney proposal to up the level to 15 ships a year. The appropriators would fund 11 new Navy ships; the authorizers would take it a step further and add about $60 million to upgrade three of the seven cruisers the Obama administration wants to retire.
Another issue to watch is the Obama plan for increasing fees for military retirees, both for working retirees’ health-care programs and for their drug purchases. The authorizers would bar any increases or new fees but propose a pilot program on pharmacy purchases. Some $1 billion is involved, and the GOP appropriators have yet to decide the issue.