- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2011

When the House voted last month to cancel a military jet engine project, it didn’t just halt the spending, it said the program should get zero money this fiscal year. The only problem — it’s five months into the fiscal year, and the Defense Department says the project already has spent $140 million.

Defense officials say if that cut becomes law, they’ll have to reduce spending elsewhere to make up for the money that’s already out the door.

The amendment’s sponsor disagrees, and the defense contractor making the jet engine says the amount of money spent from 2011 funds is not that high. But either way, Republicans are finding that the logistics of cutting spending becomes trickier as the fiscal year winds down and more money gets spent.

Congress already is bumping up against a March 18 government shutdown deadline as the House votes Tuesday on a three-week deadline extension that would also cut $4.6 billion from 2010 spending levels and rescind an additional $1.4 billion in unspent funds from prior years.

The short-term measure would be the sixth extension since Congress missed last year’s Oct. 1 deadline for finishing the dozen annual spending bills.

Weariness with the repeated short-term bills is growing in both parties, and Republicans in particular are facing a revolt among their conservative ranks.

“There is a growing group of resisters in the House saying, ‘I’m not going to bite this every two weeks or three weeks, while we are giving up our leverage to cut funding,’” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican.

Just a few weeks ago, conservatives said a week-to-week approach that made repeated cuts was a viable way to cut $60 billion from 2010 spending levels. But with ever-more spending still going out the door, they have soured on the approach.

On Monday, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee in the House, announced he will vote against the short-term measure — a key signal of conservative unrest.

House Republican leaders said they hear the frustration, but blame the Senate.

“It is our hope this is the last short-term [bill] we do,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

The House last month passed a bill to fund the government through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2011, while cutting $61 billion from 2010 levels.

The Senate has yet to pass a full-year bill, though Congress has sliced off $4 billion in cuts and passed those as part of the most recent two-week deadline extension.

Senators have rejected both the House’s $61 billion cuts plan and a competing Democratic plan, though, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said that puts the onus back on the House to come up with another bill.

“We’re still waiting for them to bring something — anything —- new to the table,” Mr. Reid said. “They haven’t done that yet. Listen to the Republicans’ speeches and sound bites, and you’ll hear no reasonable cuts, no serious offer, no willingness to compromise, no sense of shared responsibility.”

Mr. Reid said Democrats are willing to cut, but rejected going as deeply as House Republicans.

The three-week extension would take spending past April 1, which marks the halfway point in the fiscal year. That means that agencies and departments will have spent a large chunk of their 2011 money already, making any proposed cuts tougher to stomach.

The Washington Times found confusion and concern among some agencies and programs slated to see funding cuts under the House’s initial bill.

Among those programs that would get “zeroed out,” meaning they receive no money in 2011, are a half-dozen agriculture programs, some independent commissions and some grant and construction programs throughout the federal government.

Several programs, such as the Eisenhower Commission, said the cut programs didn’t need any new money this year. In another case, the Homeland Security Department’s Gulf Coast coordinator office is no longer needed.

Other agencies said they will look to Congress for guidance as the process goes along, while still others said it was too early to answer questions.

But some programs said the cuts will be problematic.

In the House bill, the U.S. Institute of Peace is slated to lose $42.7 million in funding under an amendment sponsored by Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, New York Democrat. But USIP says it’s already spent about $20 million under the current stopgap spending laws, and said that as an independent institution, it has no place to go to make up money if it gets zeroed out.

One of the biggest-ticket items is an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — a program that the Pentagon has tried for years to cut, arguing a single production line is good enough.

Both the House and Senate bills cancel funding, but the House bill in particular calls for zeroing out all $450 million in financing the project was to see in 2011. But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said under the stopgap spending laws, they are going through $28 million a month, which means that through February they had spent $140 million.

The Defense Department said that $140 million would have to be recaptured from other programs Congress didn’t intend to cut.

“If Congress zeroes out the program in the final bill, the department will need to make up the money — already spent in FY2011 on the JSF extra engine — by taking from other programs where money that was appropriated has not been spent yet,” said a defense official who asked not to be named. “This may require a reprogramming; but that remains to be seen after we have a final appropriation.”

A spokesman for Rep. Thomas J. Rooney, the Florida Republican who sponsored the amendment, disputed the defense official’s read, saying they ran the amendment by the department beforehand. And other House staffers disputed the department’s spending number.

George McLaren, a spokesman for the GE-Rolls Royce Fighter Engine Team that has the contract, said for the first three months of this fiscal year they were paid out of leftover 2010 funds, not 2011 money, so that likely wouldn’t need to be recaptured.

He also said in the long run, having competing engines would lower costs for the project overall.

“A $100 billion contract award to a never-competed monopoly? Now that’s wasteful,” he said.

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