WASHINGTON – The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is poised to give the Pentagon dozens of new ships, planes, helicopters and armored vehicles that Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the military does not need, acting in many cases in support of defense contractors and political contributors under a “business as usual” approach that the Obama administration vowed to end.
The unwanted equipment in a military spending bill expected to come to a vote on the House floor today has a price tag of at least $6.9 billion. The White House has said that some but not all of the extra expenditures could draw a presidential veto of the Defense Department’s entire $636 billion budget for 2010.
The dispute over Congress’s insistence on additional spending for items such as the C-17 transport plane, a troubled missile defense interceptor program and the VH-71 presidential helicopter reflects a continuing struggle between Gates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are loyal to existing military programs benefiting contractors that provide jobs and heavy campaign donations.
Gates vowed in April to fundamentally overhaul the military’s “approach to procurement, acquisition and contracting” and urged Congress to back a shift from many traditional weapons programs toward spending on counterinsurgency efforts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But House lawmakers who support past priorities appear likely to prevail in this round, because an unusually restrictive rule for floor debate agreed upon Wednesday will only allow amendments to strip less than half of the spending the administration dislikes.
About $2.75 billion of the extra funds – all of which were unanimously approved in an 18-minute-long markup Monday by the Democratic-controlled House Appropriations Committee – would finance earmarks, or projects demanded by individual lawmakers that the Pentagon did not request. About half of that amount reflects spending requested by private firms, including 95 companies or related political action committees that donated a total of $789,190 to members of the appropriations subcommittee on defense, according to an analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit group.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a government spending critic who has long waged a campaign against such earmarks, has said he will try again today to strike all such spending. But his prior earmark-stripping efforts have succeeded only once in dozens of attempts, and never on defense spending.