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St. Louis factory would benefit under defense spending bill

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | 5:13 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — The total cost of the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would top $1 trillion under a Pentagon funding bill approved by a key House panel Wednesday.

The $636 billion defense spending bill unanimously approved by the Appropriations Committee contains $128 billion for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — and Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the House's top defense budget writer, says more will be needed next spring.

For now, the measure contains $369 million for the beleaguered F-22 program, which President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are intent on killing after 187 planes are built. Cancellation of the F-22 program is at the top of Gates' efforts to reform the Pentagon's procurement system. On the heels of a 58-40 Senate vote Tuesday to kill the program, Murtha said it's clear the program is dead.

Murtha said he would cease efforts to buy more planes and would instead direct money for spare parts for the F-22.

Gates wants to shift military spending to programs more suitable to today's unconventional wars. The F-22, designed for midair combat, has been irrelevant to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and therefore unused there.

The measure, however, deals a blow to Gates' efforts to kill other Pentagon projects, including the VH-71 presidential helicopter, the C-17 cargo jet, and an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Those programs have strong support on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are eager to protect jobs in their home districts.

For example, the measure includes $485 million for the presidential helicopter project, sought chiefly by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., which could keep construction going for five presidential helicopters. The aircraft would be assembled at a Lockheed Martin Corp. factory in Owego in Hinchey's upstate district. Production was halted in May after the Pentagon concluded the project was hopelessly over budget.

Other weapons systems getting boosts over Obama's request include the funding for nine additional F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, built in St. Louis, and $674 million for three C-17 jumbo cargo jets, assembled in Long Beach, Calif.

The bill also would provide a 3.4 percent military pay hike, 0.5 percent above Obama's request, and provides a 14 percent increase for medical care for service members. It significantly increases funding to treat traumatic brain injury and mental health programs.

The measure also rejects Obama's $100 million request for the Pentagon to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba and extends a current ban on releasing Guantanamo detainees in the United States. It also requires an extensive risk analysis and a detailed justification for bringing detainees into the U.S. for trial or to serve their sentences.

 


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