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Bill Shorts Gear for Troops
Associated Press | April 21, 2006
WASHINGTON - A Senate measure to fund the war in Iraq would chop money for troops' night vision equipment and new battle vehicles but add $230 million for a tilt-rotor aircraft that has already cost $18 billion and is still facing safety questions.
The panel insists the equipment cuts won't affect readiness.Vice President Cheney, as secretary of defense in the first Bush administration, tried to kill the V-22, to no avail. The aircraft is popular with lawmakers, especially those from Pennsylvania and Texas, which host the manufacturing plants.
"They've hijacked the bill to spend money on their toys," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group. "You have the V-22, which isn't even ready for fielding and it's getting money in the supplemental."
The V-22 is but one example of the Pentagon and lawmakers using the mammoth bill to skirt limits on the already rapidly growing defense budget.
For example, there's more than $3 billion in funding for an ongoing overhaul of the Army that the Pentagon admits isn't directly related to fighting the war.
Meanwhile, senators have added $228 million to procure seven C-17 Air Force cargo planes that can't be completed until 2008 at the earliest - and would eventually cost a total of almost $2 billion. The C-17 cargo plane is manufactured in Long Beach, Calif., by Boeing Co. The line there is now slated to close in 2008 with the completion of a 180-plane inventory. Instead, the $228 million would purchase parts as a down payment for building seven more planes. It would take at least another $1.6 billion to finish the job.
"If it goes through, you basically force the Air Force to buy another seven planes," said a lobbyist for a rival defense contractor.
The Senate will take up the $106.5 billion Iraq funding bill - which includes $27.2 billion for additional hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast - on April 25. The House passed a companion $92 billion measure last month.
Generally speaking, emergency war funding bills get less scrutiny than the Pentagon's regular budget. And since they provide crucial funding for U.S. troops and equipment, most lawmakers are reluctant to criticize the bills.
However, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is taking aim at $3.5 billion the Army requested for creating smaller, independent fighting units. Gregg wants to use some of the money to finance border security initiatives and the Coast Guard's ongoing upgrade of ships, planes and helicopters.
"There's a fair amount of money in this supplemental that is not an emergency. It's essentially an attempt to pick up operational and core needs outside the usual budgeting process," Gregg said. "It's certainly in the multiple billions."
The Pentagon says restructuring the Army belongs in the Iraq spending because it would accelerate transforming 5,000-man brigades into independently functioning units and facilitate troop rotations in and out of Iraq. But Gregg and others say the Army restructuring should be part of the regular budget and the Pentagon tacitly agrees; next year it will be funded that way.
For now, the inclusion of the expensive restructuring project in the war funding bill is a way to avoid cutting other defense programs.
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