Senate committee proposes cuts to DOD budget

The Defense Subcommittee reduced President Bush's request by $9 billion.

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The Senate Appropriations Committee approved July 20 the fiscal 2007 Defense Department budget after almost no debate. More than 500 people turned out for the committee’s markup of four budget bills, in which legislators announced their intentions to spend more than $1 trillion.

All amendments to the committee report were tabled until the bill reaches the Senate floor.

The report from the committee’s Defense Subcommittee would give DOD $453.5 billion for fiscal 2007, which includes a $50 billion bridge fund for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is $9 billion less than President Bush’s budget request and $5 billion less than the version the House passed last month.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the subcommittee, said members completed marking up the bill in 12 minutes. “I think that reflects the bipartisan nature of this bill,” he said, referring to the lack of objections from the subcommittee’s Democrats.

But in those 12 minutes, the appropriators were able to reduce the funding by cutting critical assets needed for current and future operations, Stevens said. “In order to reach that number, Sen. [Daniel] Inouye and I had to cut key defense readiness and modernization programs,” Stevens said. Inouye (D-Hawaii) is the ranking member on the subcommittee.

The lost funding went to other subcommittees for domestic programs. The full committee gave increases to the departments of Agriculture, Labor, Education, and Housing and Urban Development, among others.

Experts expressed concern about the speed of the funding approval process. Stevens “apparently thinks it’s a good thing to ram these gigantic bills through with as little debate as possible,” said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information.

The coming debate on the Senate floor is typically too brief to properly address all the defense spending issues, Wheeler said. Senators also insert personal pork projects just before a vote is taken, overwhelming the floor debate, he added.

Senators usually use the bridge fund to reinsert programs cut from the peacetime part of the bill, Wheeler said. Because the war section does not contain spending limits, programs can be placed there even though they are not directly related to the war. Then appropriators can claim they have cut the base budget, he said.

For example, the war fund, called Title IX, includes $36 million for the Single Army Logistics Enterprise, the Army’s program to organize all aspects of supply logistics into one networked system. The Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, based at Fort Belvoir, Va., runs the program.

Overall, battlefield communications systems fared poorly in the committee’s report, while infrastructure programs benefited. For example, Army Base Support Communications received a 30 percent increase but additional funding for the Joint Tactical Radio System was eliminated. Navy Enterprise Information Technology funding was increased by 60 percent, but money for portable radios for the Navy was cut by the same percentage.

Information Systems Security got a $20 million increase, but that increase is earmarked for U.S. Forces Alaska.

The subcommittee also reduced procurement for space programs. The Transformational Satellite Program budget was cut by $230 million. Also, funding for Global Positioning - Space Advance Procurement was zeroed out, reflecting congressional scorn over research setbacks.

By contrast, the appropriations markup for military construction and veterans affairs totaled $94.3 billion, close to the $94.7 billion requested by the administration. That is a 16 percent increase compared with last year’s allocation.

As with the House bill, the Senate version cuts funding for the implementation of the National Security Personnel System. The program has faced congressional criticism after a federal court declared the labor relations parts of the program to be illegal. DOD has proceeded with its deployment of the system despite ongoing complaints from legislators and union groups.

The House passed its version of the DOD appropriations bill June 20 with $4 billion less than the Bush administration’s request. Following the passage of the House version, the president threatened a veto based on the nature of the cuts, saying the “reductions could undermine the readiness and preparedness of the U.S. forces.”

The Senate could take up the debate over DOD funding as early as next week, a committee spokesperson said.