The Washington Post

Bill cuts billions from 2012 Defense budget

The Senate Armed Services Committee announced Friday that it has proposed reductions of $6.4 billion from President Obama’s requested fiscal 2012 Defense Authorization Bill, but its chairman complained the cuts had been done without White House help.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters Friday that after Obama called in April for $400 billion in reductions in defense and intelligence spending over the next 12 years, the committee had been unable to get any guidance from the Office of Management and Budget as to how much of that should be cut in the first year or what should be reduced.

“We got no guideline on year one,” Levin said, and “no commitment as to when we would receive those numbers.”

The administration requested $688.9 billion for next year including $553 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget, another $117.8 billion for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and another $18.1 billion for the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs.

In turn, the committee approved a total of $682.5 billion, with $5.9 billion of its reductions coming in the base Defense budget, and another $537 million from the overseas portion. The full nuclear weapons program funding was approved, though some spending items were changed.

The bill, which contains some major differences with the $690 billion measure that passed the House last month, now goes to the Senate for debate and approval.

One of the Senate panel’s major reductions, for some $1.1 billion, came by limiting the amount that could be spent hiring contractors for work supported by operation and maintenance funds. A bipartisan proposal sponsored by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) froze contracting services to the 2010 level, much as civilian workforce levels were kept at that year’s level.

Another $1 billion was cut from military construction projects, including family housing.

The Senate committee bill sets up some sharp conflicts with the measure that passed the House, starting with several provisions challenging the administration’s policies involving gays in the military that were attached to the House bill.

Levin said that no senator brought up any of the House provisions, and that he would oppose their inclusion in the bill when the conference with the House gets underway.

The Senate panel made clear it would oppose any earmarks in the final legislation, with Levin saying Friday that he believed a $650 million fund created in the House bill was used for what formerly had been called member earmarks.

The Senate cut $495 million that the Navy requested for nine new F-18 fighter planes, an action that Friday drew a quick negative response from Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who championed those funds in the House. “In the conference negotiations on this bill I will do everything in my power to reverse this cut,” Akin said.

The Senate did agree with the House on handling the administration’s controversial plan to increase health-care enrollment fees for working-age retirees. Both bills accept the monthly increase proposed by the administration and they would limit subsequent annual increases to the percentage growth of retirees’ pay rather than the rise in medical costs, as the administration had wanted.

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