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Analyst: House Defense Budget Prizes Pork

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote next week on a defense budget that, as it stands now, prizes pork over readiness, an analyst said.

The House Armed Services Committee, headed by Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-California, last week approved its version of fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the year.

The legislation would add funding for weapons and programs the Defense Department has said it can't afford, from A-10 gunships and EA-18 electronic attack jets to navy cruisers and refueling of an 11th aircraft carrier.

"The committee's mark in my judgment puts pork and hardware over readiness," Gordon Adams, an American University professor who served as a senior defense budget official at the White House's Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration, said this week during a conference call with reporters.

"It basically says," he said, "we are going to keep stuffing programs into this budget and hope that it survives. We are going to deal with the pet projects of a lot of members of Congress, so they fully fund hardware accounts."

In a statement after the committee's unanimous 61-0 vote in favor of the legislation, McKeon said, "This annual bill is the gold standard for congressional bipartisanship and transparency, and I'm proud of the work we have done over this long day."

Specifically, the committee's version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2015, as it's officially known, would add funding to the Pentagon's budget request for numerous equipment items.

Among the additions, known as "plus-ups" in congressional parlance: $450 million for five EA-18G Growler jets made by Boeing Co.; $782 million for the refueling of the Navy's USS George Washington aircraft carrier, including $484 million for the refueling and complex overhaul, RCOH, and $298 million for reactor power units; and $82 million for more Tomahawk cruise missiles made by Raytheon Co., among many others, according to a report accompanying the legislation.

The House panel -- against the wishes of its chairman and ranking member -- voted to keep the A-10 in the Air Force fleet by using some $635 million in funding from the war budget, known as overseas contingency operations, or OCO, in a particularly obvious example of budget chicanery, Adams said.

"The trend here is predictable, is inevitable, where the committee has simply said, 'we are going to stand on a separate island and do our thing and we really aren't going to pay attention to where the budget overall is heading,'" he said.

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