Spending cuts bill hits defense and foreign aid
No money for an alternative engine for the multibillion-dollar Joint Strike Fighter. Millions of dollars in cuts for the United Nations. A major reduction in spending on the Global Agriculture and Food Security Fund.
It all adds up to billions less for the Pentagon and the State Department than what Obama had requested for the budget year ending Sept. 30, a reflection of the widespread congressional belief that every element of government spending is on the chopping block in an era of trillion-dollar-plus deficits.
The hard-fought deal negotiated by the president, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., calls for $513 billion for defense, a cut of $18.1 billion from what the administration envisioned but $5 billion more than last year's amount. War costs for Iraq and Afghanistan would be covered separately at a cost of $158 billion.
The State Department and foreign operations would get $48.3 billion, an $8.4 billion reduction from Obama's proposal and a cut of $504 million from last year. The House and Senate are expected to vote this week on the overall package of $38 billion in cuts.
The alternative engine was the target of a battle cry for cost-cutting Republican newcomers in February.
House GOP freshmen led the charge to cancel $450 million for a second engine 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. Neither Obama nor Defense Secretary Robert Gates wanted the second engine, with Gates telling Congress that it required an additional $3 billion to develop and that spending such money "in a time of economic distress" was a waste.
But Boehner and other House GOP leaders backed the extra engine built by General Electric and Rolls Royce in Ohio and Indiana.
Fears that it would be revived in the compromise bill proved unfounded.
"Given the overwhelming bipartisan support my amendment enjoyed in the House, I appreciate Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Reid including this cut in the final agreement they negotiated," said two-term Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla. "The extra engine is a luxury we simply cannot afford."
Said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Armed Services Committee: "Not only did they not fund the alternate engine ... but they rescinded money from a previous year. I thought that represented the kind of elimination of duplicative spending that we need to address."
Last month, the Pentagon ordered a halt to work on the second engine. It plans to buy engines solely from Pratt & Whitney of Hartford, Conn.
Still, officials in the defense industry say proponents of the alternative engine may try to restore the money in future military budgets, long after Gates has retired as defense secretary.
In February, Gates said his bottom line number for the defense budget was $540 billion, tens of billions more than what the White House and congressional leaders worked out.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said resolution was critical.
"The most important thing is getting a budget for the year. It lowers the level of uncertainty," Reed said. "The consequences of not having a budget are delay and maybe even deferring important projects at a cost of more money. It's very inefficient."
But he added that if lawmakers are "truly committed to reducing the deficit," they have to look at every program.
Consistent with recent defense legislation, the bill bars the transfer of terrorist suspects held at the Navy-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United State and prevents construction of facilities in the U.S. to house detainees.
On foreign aid, the White House and congressional leaders agreed to significant across-the-board cuts.
The U.S. contribution to the United Nations and other international organizations would be cut by $377 million. Pay for foreign service officers would be frozen. The Global Agriculture and Food Security Fund, created to fight world hunger and poverty, would get just $100 million, far less than the $408 million than Obama sought.
The negotiators agreed to cuts in the millions for international banks, the U.N. Population Fund and international narcotics control and law enforcement programs.
"It took a big hit and I think it will cost us a lot more money in the future," bemoaned Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid.
Some Democrats said the cuts could have been worse, citing what Republicans had done in a House-passed bill in February.
Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid, said she was pleased the agreement fixes "many of the ill-advised cuts" passed by the House.
"Diplomacy and development help avoid military deployments, and civilian aid workers are essential to the success of our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan," she said.
The bill would provide $2.5 billion for the Global Health and Child Survival account, $80 million more than last year. The program tries to protect children from malaria and other diseases and save others in childbirth.
In a major policy win for Obama and the Democrats, the bill does not include a provision barring U.S. funds to foreign private organizations that use their own money to provide abortion services.