House panel unveils defense spending bill

May 31, 2011 - 11:58 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House panel on Tuesday unveiled a $649 billion defense spending bill for next year's Pentagon budget that funds the nation's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and wades into the long-running fight over the multibillion-dollar, next generation jet fighter.

The House Appropriations Committee bill would provide $119 billion for the two wars, $841 million more than President Barack Obama sought but $39 billion below the current amount. Americans combat forces are slated to leave Iraq at the end of the year and Obama is weighing the first round in the drawdown of the 100,000 troops in Afghanistan in July, with all combat forces out by 2014.

The legislation would provide $13 billion to train and equip Afghan security forces and $1.1 billion for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, although 75 percent of the money would be withheld until the defense secretary reports to Congress on how the money would be spent.

The bill, which the defense subcommittee will consider on Wednesday, provides money for many of the programs spelled out in the defense blueprint approved overwhelmingly by the House last week.

The bill would provide $530 billion in overall spending for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, an increase of $17 billion over the current year but $9 billion less than Obama sought. It provides the money for a 1.6 percent pay raise for military personnel and prevents the administration from spending any money to transfer terrorist suspects from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States.

The committee rejected efforts by some in Congress to spend money on construction of an extra engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Neither Obama nor Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants the alternate engine, arguing that it's a waste of money in a time of tight budgets.

The Pentagon plans to buy engines for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter solely from Pratt & Whitney of Hartford, Conn. The department recently notified General Electric and Rolls Royce, which is working on the alternative in Ohio and Indiana, that it had terminated the contract. The companies said they would continue work on the alternative engine using their own money.

The crux of their argument is that forcing Pratt & Whitney to compete against them will produce more efficient, less expensive engines for the nearly 2,500 F-35 fighters the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps plan to buy and fly over the next 40 years. Eliminating the GE-Rolls Royce team gives Pratt & Whitney a "$100 billion monopoly" on the engines, according to the two companies.

The House defense blueprint tries to revive the extra engine, including a provision that would force the Pentagon to re-open competition if the department has to ask Congress for more money so Pratt & Whitney can build the chosen engine.