Thursday, May 24, 2012

5/24/12 RD Bulletin: House Passes NDAA $4bn Above POTUS, $8bn Above BCA

State of Play

Legislative: Last Friday, the House passed its annual defense authorization bill (NDAA), which would authorize $642 billion in national security funding, roughly $4 billion above the President’s FY13 request.  Several amendments were offered to the NDAA that resemble recommendations put forth in a new report, Defense Sense, authored by defense analysts at PDA and the Cato Institute.  These include amendments offered by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to eliminate the Marine Corps variant of the F-35, by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) to reduce by roughly $8 billion the amount authorized by the bill, and by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) to withdraw all Army brigades from Europe and replace them on a rotational basis.  Interestingly, a new poll conducted by Rasmussen shows that a slim majority of Americans support removing all U.S. troops from Europe. 

Notably, the House version of the NDAA would block additional reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, prevent the administration from retiring certain aircraft and naval vessels, calls for the construction of an East Coast-based missile defense shield, prohibits the administration from implementing TRICARE reforms, and limits the ability of the Defense Department to enact end-strength reductions.  The legislation also includes an amendment that would prevent the sequestration of defense funds if Congress is able to replace it with commensurate savings.  The White House has issued a veto threat over the House NDAA for many of the aforementioned reasons, and has also come out in opposition to the House Appropriations Committee’s defense spending bill, which would provide $607.7 billion for national security programs.  The House defense appropriations bill is expected to hit the Floor sometime this summer

The Senate Armed Services Committee is marking up its own version of the NDAA, largely behind closed doors, this week.  Last week, Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) voiced his intention to keep the NDAA’s authorization in line with the Budget Control Act’s spending caps, saying “My intent to try to hold the line on the spending limit because that's what the law last year set.”  However, a spokesperson for Levin told Morning Defense that the committee is “marking to the president’s numbers,” which means it will likely be above the BCA spending caps by $4 billion.  A full committee vote on the measure is expected by week’s end.  Meanwhile Levin and Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) have directed GAO to audit the Pentagon’s “military information support operations,” commonly referred to as propaganda, due to concerns about its cost-effectiveness and utility. 

CBO has released a new economic forecast, which predicts that, under current law, the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts as well as other expiring tax provisions combined with deficit reduction efforts implemented by the Budget Control Act could shrink the economy by 1.3 percent next year and result in increased unemployment.  Secretaries Panetta and Clinton and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week in support of ratification of the Law of the Seas Treaty, during which Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said that he intends to bring the treaty to the Senate Floor during the lame duck session after the November election. 

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on foreign operations has approved its annual spending bill that would provide $52.1 billion for the State Department and related agencies, a roughly $2.6 billion cut from the President’s budget request.  If the Budget Control Act’s security/non-security caps are restored, as the President has requested, a lower funding amount for the State Department and related agencies could free up additional funding for the Pentagon.  For more on the foreign operations spending bill from Russell Rumbaugh of the Stimson Center, click here

Executive: The United States hosted a NATO summit in Chicago this weekend during which member nations endorsed handing over control of military operations to Afghanistan next year.  The Obama administration has been trying for months now to reopen supply routes from Pakistan into Afghanistan, however right before the NATO summit convened; Pakistan announced that it would only reopen the supply routes at a cost of $5,000 per truck, a figure which the United States calls too high.  The White House attempted to reduce the fee, but its effort proved unsuccessful.  Pakistan’s refusal to reopen the supply routes without the hefty fee could seriously complicate efforts by the United States to withdraw large amounts of military hardware from Afghanistan next year.  The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, has announced his retirement after less than a year in the post due to health reasons.  Crocker’s retirement could complicate the expected transfer of the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, to the Supreme Allied Commander post in Europe. 

This week, the Pentagon released its annual report to Congress on military developments in China.  The report asserts that China spent $180 billion on its military buildup last year, is two years behind schedule on development of its new stealth fighter jet, may be developing its own domestically-produced aircraft carrier, and has made considerable investments in new ballistic missile technologies. 

On Monday, the Cato Institute hosted a panel discussion with Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Work, as well as experts from Cato, CBO, and POGO, during which Work confronted criticism over the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program and discussed the future of the Navy’s surface fleet.  Work pointed out that the two different designs of the LCS were essentially two separate “classes” of ships while noting that the three different variants of the F-35 were also three completely different aircraft (contrary to popular belief), ““[The] F-35A is as different from the F-35B as LCS 1 is from LCS 2.”  The Center for a New American Security has released a new report that advocates military spending reductions of $500-550 billion over ten years relative to current law funding levels (FY12 enacted appropriations).  The report argues that in order for the United States to achieve “sustainable pre-eminence,” it must make sensible reductions that enhance efficiency, including reduced procurement of the F-35 and Littoral Combat Ship.  

Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective: The House missed an important opportunity last week to set the Pentagon’s budget on a more sustainable path and adhere to the budget agreement they passed last August when the chamber voted down several amendments that would have cut funds for excessive weapons development and procurement.  An amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Lee to reduce the NDAA’s topline by $8 billion and bring it in line with the BCA caps received broad support including 16 Republican votes, but failed to win the majority by a vote 170-252.  Defense Sense, a new report by analysts at PDA and the Cato Institute, provides 18 options for defense spending reductions in FY13 that could easily keep the Pentagon’s budget within legislated caps.  The House version of the NDAA confirms that the chamber is avoiding its responsibility to prepare for a viable compromise that will be required for a stable alternative to BCA-mandated sequester of Pentagon funds beginning early next year.  Further defense cuts must be part of such a compromise.  


Ben Freeman discusses the pseudo-celebrity nature of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (which is expected to make a cameo in the new Top Gun sequel) and notes that the controversial program is expected to cost about $160 million per plane, more than double the original cost estimate.  Freeman proposes replacing the two most expensive variants of the F-35 with tried and tested FA-18 E/F Super Hornets, which would save hundreds of billions of dollars.  (5/17/12)

Gordon Adams argues that despite rhetoric from both the Romney campaign and Republicans in the House, economic woes will override efforts to protect defense budgets.  Adams also discusses the irony that, at a time when the American public wants to reduce its global military footprint, the military is looking at expanding its global policing operations via increased use of special operations forces.  (5/17/12)

Other News and Commentary

Rep. Todd Akin (R-MI) discusses an amendment he offered last week that would wall off half of the funding for the F-35 in FY13 unless the Pentagon can certify an initial operational capability (IOC) date for the aircraft.  Akin is concerned that “To date, the only major defense acquisition program to not have an IOC date established this far into the program is the F-35,” and bemoans the fact that his amendment was rejected by HASC in favor of watered-down version.  (5/23/12)

During a speech last week, former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James Cartwright, echoed sentiments previously expressed by Gordon Adams regarding current proposed reductions in military spending compared to past drawdowns.  Cartwright pointed out that the $480 billion in reductions that the administration has endorsed constitutes a roughly 10 percent decrease in military spending, but that past drawdowns have seen an average reduction of around 20 percent.  (5/22/12)

House Republicans are stuck in a Cold War-mode of thinking according to Robert Gard and Kingston Reif, who cite House passage of the NDAA, which “includes hundreds of millions of dollars in unneeded funding for nuclear weapons programs that U.S. military leaders did not ask for.”  The authors maintain that increased funding for nuclear weapons could impede and possibly undermine the New START treaty. Specifically, the House version of the NDAA would add $320 million for construction of a new plutonium facility and would require the Navy to maintain twelve active nuclear ballistic missile submarines, which the Navy says is unnecessary. (5/21/12)

Mark Thompson points out that the $3.7 billion dollar discrepancy between the administration’s FY13 defense budget request and the House spending bills is “just about the same amount [that] an East Coast missile shield will cost over the next five years.”  The House has called for an East Coast-system to be in place by 2016, even though neither Iran nor North Korea is capable of striking U.S. soil with ballistic missiles. (5/21/12)

The House-passed version of the NDAA would almost double the Army’s request for funding for the M2 Bradley fighting vehicle in a move intended to “mitigate risk to the industrial base.”  The Army has requesting funding for modernization and upgrades to the Bradley, even though Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has said that efforts aimed at improving the Bradley’s survivability haven’t “done very well.” (5/19/12)

Due to a 2009 Congressional earmark sponsored by House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY), the Army continues to purchase drip pans for its Black Hawk helicopters at $17,000 a piece, even though another company offers the same equipment at a cost of $2,500 per item.  Phoenix Products, the firm that received the 2009 earmark, has made frequent donations to Rogers’ campaign.  Coincidentally, Rogers has directed $17 million in contracts to the company since 2000. (5/18/12)

Some have criticized the Obama administration’s Asia Pivot for antagonizing China on the one hand while failing to bolster shipbuilding on the other. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) believes the United States should not seek a new Cold War in Asia that forces countries to choose between it and China, and instead should focus on strengthening economic relationships within the region: “The bottom line is that America’s long-term strategic and economic success requires an ambitious trade strategy in Asia,” says McCain. (5/17/12)


Congressional Research Service: Intelligence Authorization Legislation: Status and Challenges (5/21/12)

Congressional Research Service: Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990 (5/17/12)

Congressional Research Service: Proliferation of Precision Strike: Issues for Congress  (5/14/12)

Center for a New American Security: Sustainable Pre-eminence Reforming the U.S. Military

Office of the Secretary of Defense: Annual Progress Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2012 (May, 2012)

Center for National Policy: NATO Strategy in Afghanistan: A New Way Forward (May, 2012)

Compiled and submitted by:
Ethan R. Rosenkranz and Abney Boxley
Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA)