- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2012

House Republicans have added more than a half-billion dollars to the defense budget, even as Pentagon officials are struggling to meet their target of cutting spending by $487 billion over the next decade.

Lawmakers who added the money say it is needed to restore what one Republican staffer called “phoney” savings the Obama administration claims in its budget for modernizing and maintaining military facilities.

Critics claim the extra cash is a “slush fund” for potential pork-barrel projects in lawmakers’ districts.

Both the defense authorization bill recently passed by the House and the defense appropriations bill currently awaiting its turn on the floor contain the additional funding, described as being for “restoration and modernization of facilities.”

The total across all three armed services is nearly $600 million in the House authorization bill and more than $770 million in the appropriations bill, according to an analysis by defense budget veteran Winslow T. Wheeler, of the Project on Government Oversight, a government spending watchdog.

The annual defense authorization bill primarily deals with policy issues, but contains spending guidelines. The appropriations bill actually allocates the money every year.

Showdown with Senate

The extra half-billion in facilities funding is part of the reason why the House bills would add about $3.7 billion to President Obama defense budget request for fiscal 2013.

The additional funding has set the stage for a battle between the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate, which is expected to pass bills that reflect the administration’s efforts to reduce the deficit by trimming projected Pentagon spending.

The two chambers’ bills have to be combined before they can proceed to final passage and presidential signature.

The extra half-billion dollars in the House billls “is money without stated purpose or direction,” said Mr. Wheeler, who spent three decades as a Capitol Hill staffer overseeing Pentagon budgets for both Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

“That has slush fund written all over it,” he told The Times.

Congressional staffers insist the money is needed to maintain and repair military buildings.

“The funding provided will support Department of Defense identified requirements for facility upgrades, renovation, and needed improvements,” said Jennifer Hing, communications director for the House Appropriations Committee.

But Mr. Wheeler said that, once the bills are passed by both chambers and the money is appropriated, members of the Appropriations and Armed Services committees will start phoning or writing Pentagon officials with “suggestions” about how the money would be spent on pork-barrel projects at military bases in their home districts.

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