White House Clashes with House on Weapons Cancellations

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Despite the fact that the Pentagon says it isn't planning on fighting any more major land wars any time soon, the House has added $168 million for M-1 tanks to its version of the 2014 defense bill.

It’s an old battle: executive branch expertise on how it thinks taxpayer dollars should be spent versus the congressional power of the purse.

This story plays out often in the yearly authorization and appropriations bills for the Department of Defense. This year is not any different as a White House statement from Tuesday makes clear.

Here is how this usually works:

The Pentagon and the White House submit a budget request to Congress. That budget assumes the cancellation and phase-out of certain weapon systems and eliminates funding for them (aside from the costs of contract close out).

The reasons for cancellation range from weapons that are costing more than expected, or what can be afforded, are underperforming, or there are better alternatives.

In response, Congress, or at least certain members of Congress, do not agree with the executive branch’s decision for a range of reasons. They range from legitimate disagreements to less-principled ones involving homestate jobs to campaign contributions from interested parties.

In the annual National Defense Authorization Act or in the defense appropriations bill, Congress often seeks to maintain funding for these programs, bucking the executive. The White House fires back sometimes, in extreme cases threatening to veto the bill in question, as it did in July 2009 when Congress tried to keep the F-22 Raptor program flying.

This is happening right now with the current House of Representatives’ version of the authorization bill. The White House has now returned fire with that Statement of Administration Policy — SAP — highlighting weapons programs it would like to kill, curtail, or stop from starting, but that the bill would fund.

For instance, “In this fiscally constrained environment, the Administration objects to the addition of unnecessary funding, for example $168 million of unrequested increased authorization for the M-1 Abrams tank, and to the authorization of $135.1 million of unrequested funding to procure and to field additional Light Utility Helicopters. The requirement for U.S. tanks will be fulfilled in December 2014, and the Army will not need to begin recapitalization of the Abrams tank fleet until the 2019 time frame.”

In addition, according to the White House, the House bill:

— Requires “the Missile Defense Agency to construct and make operational an additional homeland defense site, ignores possible alternatives, ignores fiscal constraints, presumes a validated military requirement for a third U.S.-based missile defense site when none exists.”
— “Would prohibit the cancellation or modification of the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program (AMP), and to the authorization of $47 million for Low Rate Initial Production kit procurement for the C-130 AMP. Retaining AMP would cost $1.6 billion within the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) and an additional $1.1 billion after the FYDP to complete. DOD plans to cancel the C-130AMP in part because there is a less expensive solution.”
— Requires “the Secretary of the Air Force to develop a follow-on air-launched cruise missile to the AGM-86 that achieves initial operating capability for both conventional and nuclear missions by 2030. There is currently no requirement or funding in the Long Range Standoff Weapon program, to develop and field a conventional variant.”

For many critics of defense spending, these examples are among the porkiest of Pentagon programs — even the Defense Department doesn’t want them. On the other hand, there have been moments where Congress has forced programs on a reluctant military that have turned out well. Many cite congressional support of the MQ-1 Predator drone program over the opposition of the Air Force fighter pilot-dominated bureaucracy as just one example. How the Predators have been used — by both the military and the CIA — is another debate entirely.