That sound coming from across the river -- the low rumble, like the beginning of an avalanche? That's the start of the big crunch.
As your correspondent was returning Monday from an early Christmas in rural Ohio, Armed Services lawmakers were rolling out their conference report on this year's behemoth defense authorization bill, which, they proclaimed proudly, will take Congress' unbroken streak of auth bills to 50 straight. Still, the money trend line is headed south, where it's likely to stay for the duration:
"Although the conference agreement authorizes $26.6 billion less than the budget request, I am confident that it provides adequate support for the men and women of the armed forces and their families and provides them with the means to accomplish their missions,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin.
This thing is so broad it's worth your time to take a look at the committees' official summaries, but here's a quick box score to give you the numbers quickly. These numbers come from the House and Senate announcements; some, like the B-1 details, appeared in both, but others only popped up in one or the other:
• The bill supports 10 new ships, but it would move funding cycles for the Navy's second and third Ford-class carriers from four to five years.
• It would incrementally retire those six B-1 bombers, but "maintains combat-coded aircraft at the current level of 36 aircraft."
• It keeps alive the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (to the tune of $152.2 million) and the Ground Combat Vehicle (at $449.4 million) and it would keep the Abrams tank facility rolling with this provision: "Adds $255.0 million to upgrade 49 additional M1A2 tanks allowing the Army to upgrade a total of 70 tanks and preserve minimum industrial capability through FY 2012."
• It keeps alive the C-27J Spartan -- which has been the subject of a food-fight between the Air Force, Army and Air National Guard -- with $479.9 million.
• As for other airplanes, here's how that all broke down: $8.5 billion for the F-35; $1 billion for E/A-18G Growlers; $2.2 billion for F/A-18E and F Super Hornets; and $2.1 billion for Marine MV-22 Ospreys and $339 million for Air Force CV-22s.
But as always, the bill contains more than authorization for spending levels -- and as always, it contains a healthy dose of skepticism for the Pentagon. The bill is littered with "reports" that DoD now owes Congress, despite former Secretary Gates' impatience with all the analysis and paper he always seemed to be sending the Hill. With this year's bill, DoD must submit reports about:
• Iranian and Chinese military power -- and specifically about cyber-warfare capabilities; DoD audit readiness; the Ohio-replacement ballistic missile submarine; the Littoral Combat Ship and its modules; the U.S. nuclear stockpile; the Air Force's KC-46A tanker; retiring the B-1s or upgrading the B-1s; the Air-Sea Battle "concept;" the Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft; "the benefits of neuroimaging research to identify and improve the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder;" "the management of concussion and mild traumatic brain injury in the deployment setting in accordance with DOD policy;" "women-specific health services and treatment for service members;" "the contracting activities of the military departments with respect to providing health care professional services to service members, dependents, and retirees;" "access to health care under TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra from 2011 to 2015" -- and others.
That's a lot of paperwork.