WASHINGTON May 21 The House of Representative
on Wednesday edged toward passage of an annual defense policy
bill that rejects Pentagon plans to retire older weapons systems
and slow the rise in military pay as it implements long-term
spending cuts ordered by Congress.
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 Bay, Cuba.
"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.
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 operate them.
"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)