House panel snubs Pentagon on ships, pay raise for military personnel and defence spending

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon faces election-year roadblocks in persuading Congress to back cost-saving defence cuts as the military moves away from robust wartime budgets.

The House panel that decides defence spending came out with a $570 billion blueprint Thursday that spares the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, gives military personnel a 1.8 per cent pay raise and rebuffs Pentagon efforts to make troops and their families pay slightly more for housing and groceries at on-base commissaries.

The spending bill echoes the broad defence policy bill that the House overwhelmingly passed last week that saves ships and aircraft despite pleas from senior military officers for the reductions. It also reflects lawmakers’ reluctance to trim personnel benefits for military personnel and their families amid increasing questions about the health care provided to veterans.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defence, said the bill provides the Pentagon and intelligence agencies “with the resources needed to maintain and modernize the best equipped and most capable military in the world today and in the future.”

Military leaders have warned that sparing what they consider to be parochial programs will undermine their ability to train soldiers, sailors and airmen to fight. But lawmakers are determined to protect favourite weapons.

The Pentagon had sought a more modest 1 per cent pay raise and a slight increase in out-of-pocket costs for housing and food, citing skyrocketing costs of personnel benefits.

The bill also bars the transfer to the U.S. of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama has tried to close the facility since his inauguration more than five years ago.

The subcommittee was expected to approve the bill Friday. To pay for the changes, the panel cut the operations and maintenance account by $1.4 billion from the Obama administration’s request.

The bill covers the core defence budget of $491 billion plus $79.4 billion for conflicts in Afghanistan and elsewhere.