Most amendments to revive the Pentagon's cost-cutting measures
died in committee on Wednesday and never made it to the floor for
consideration by the full House, which began debating the National
Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday night.
The Republican-dominated House instead turned its attention to
scores of amendments dealing with defense policy issues, from rights
abuses by Boko Haram extremists in Africa to the contentious issue
of shutting the prison for captured al Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo
"We have reached the point where we are now spending $2.7 million
per inmate at Guantanamo Bay," said Representative Adam Smith, the
top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. "To contrast
that, an inmate at a super max federal prison facility here in the
U.S. costs roughly $78,000 a year."
"The cost alone, I believe, is reason to close it," he said.
But Representative Jackie Walorski, an Indiana Republican,
disagreed, noting that New York City estimated in 2010 it would cost
$200 million a year to provide security if some Guantanamo detainees
were brought there for trial.
"Moving detainees to the U.S. would make the facility housing them a
terrorist target," she said.
Debate on the bill continued throughout the night on Wednesday. A
final vote was expected Thursday.
The measure authorizes a Pentagon base budget of $496 billion for
the 2015 fiscal year beginning in October. It also approves $17.6
billion for nuclear weapons activities by the Energy Department and
$79.4 billion for the Afghanistan war.
The funding level keeps Pentagon spending essentially flat for a
third consecutive year. The department is under a mandate from
Congress and the president to cut nearly $1 trillion in spending
over a decade.
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In a bid to adapt to tighter budgets, the Pentagon proposed retiring
the fleet of A-10 Warthog close air support aircraft and the
high-altitude U-2 spy plane. It also sought to lay up 14 Navy ships,
including 11 cruisers, for long-term maintenance.
The department moved to deal with personnel costs, which now make up
half of its budget, proposing a series of compensation-related
reforms, including a smaller-than-expected 1 percent pay hike for
most military personnel.
The House Armed Services Committee rejected those proposals and
offered a military pay increase of 1.8 percent. To offset the extra
spending on weapons, the House cut money elsewhere.
Asked about the House move to keep the ships in service, Admiral
Jonathan Greenert, the top Navy officer, said usually when Congress
rejects a plan to retire ships, it provides the funding needed to
"If they do that, then you know we actually come out ahead," he
said, noting the Navy made the proposal because of financial
constraints, not because it was a "great idea."
"We need ships," he added. "This is all a fiscal issue."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
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