House defense lawmakers soundly rejected proposed Pentagon cuts to a number of big-ticket weapons programs in their version of the department’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget blueprint.
The rejected program cuts were included in the nearly $600 billion defense spending package approved by House Armed Services Committee members, after a marathon markup session that wrapped up early Thursday morning. As part of the plan, lawmakers voted to set aside a total $496 billion in baseline funding, with another $80 billion to finance ongoing combat operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
House lawmakers approved the panel’s draft version of the defense bill by a unanimous vote of 61 to 0.
As part of that budget plan, committee members approved plans to conduct nuclear refueling for the USS George Washington (CVN-73), and voted to extend the carrier’s service life over the next two decades. The move essentially nixes Navy-led efforts to shrink the service’s carrier fleet from 11 ships down to 10.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) spearheaded the move to salvage George Washington in the defense bill. Losing the carrier would violate U.S. law, since the Pentagon is legally obligated to maintain 11 carriers in the fleet, according to Forbes.
The Navy initially proposed the carrier cut in an attempt to meet service spending reductions tied to sequestration. Proponents of the Navy plan have also argued the carrier’s impact on the modern-day battlefield has waned significantly, characterizing the ship as a relic of the Cold War era.
But the service’s proposal met stiff resistance from Congress and the Obama administration, since the carrier cut could possibly affect the White House and Pentagon’s plans to dramatically increase U.S. military presence in the waters of the Asia-Pacific region.
Aside from the Navy’s carrier fleet, House members also voted to keep the Air Force’s venerable A-10 attack aircraft off the budget chopping block. The A-10 Warthog has been the air service’s standard-bearer for close air support (CAS) operations since Vietnam, and enjoys tremendous support on Capitol Hill.
But Air Force leaders argued that with the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) coming into the fleet with its own advanced CAS capabilities, and the costs associated with maintaining the A-10, that it was time to move the Warthog to the boneyard.
Before Thursday’s vote, House defense panel chief Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) had struck a compromise to keep the A-10 in the Air Force arsenal, but put the planes in long-term storage. However, a block of House lawmakers, led by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), scuttled that plan in favor of keeping the A-10 on the flight line for the indefinite future.
While committee members were able to successfully save George Washington and the Warthog, the effort to derail service plans to mothball 11 Navy cruisers from the fleet fell on deaf ears within the committee.
House members defeated a Forbes plan to block any funds set aside for the retirement of Ticonderoga-class (CG-47) cruisers and three Landing Dock Ships (LSDs). If approved, the plan would have required the Navy to retain a total of 22 cruisers and 12 LSDs in the fleet, according to the amendment.
It would also have required service leaders to move any funds for those ships’ retirements toward maintenance and upgrades for both classes of warships.