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House Approves Defense Spending Bill, Another CR

December 16, 2009 - by Avelino Maestas

Once again, I was caught unawares by the House, as it approved a $636 billion Defense Spending Bill this afternoon. The text of the legislation wasn’t posted online until sometime after 10 p.m. last night, and while we’ve been expecting action on it for the past few weeks, it still came as a surprise. For starters, while many had expected the legislation would be used as a vehicle to move some non-germane items (such as an extension of unemployment benefits and a new ceiling for the national debt), members of the House opted to kick the problems down the road. For example, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation that is set to expire at the end of the year was extended through the end of February. As for the debt ceiling, the House bill would raise it from $12.1 billion to $12.4 billion, enough to get lawmakers through March.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the bill is not what was added, but what was put back in: billions of dollars for defense systems and programs the Pentagon didn’t want. President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates had something of a political victory this year by convincing Congress to stop building additional F-22 fighters. And while the F-22 isn’t being reincarnated, several other systems that Obama and Gates wanted cut from the original defense bill have found their way back in:

  • $465 million for an F-35 alternate engine

  • $100 million for additional work on the canceled VH-17 presidential helicopter

  • $2.5 billion for 10 additional C-17s cargo aircraft

  • $750 million for 9 additional F/A-18E/F tactical jets

The most transparent aspect of this bill, in fact, had been in the earmarking process. Due to new rules, all House members had to submit their earmark requests way back in April. You can find a table of those earmarks on this PDF. I haven’t seen any reports of additional earmarks in the House-approved spending bill, but the final list for 2010 is here.

The other action today was on a third continuing resolution, this one for just a week. With funding for the Defense Department set to run out on December 18 (when the second CR expires), another interim measure was required. The Senate will likely continue with legislative business through the weekend, and this CR will continue Defense Department funding through Dec. 23.

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