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Spending cuts bill hits defense and foreign aid

By Donna Cassata

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 13 2011 1:15 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this photo taken Friday, April 8, 2011, House Speaker, Republican John Boehner of Ohio, walks past the media on his way to a Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. The hard-fought deal negotiated by the president, Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., calls for $513 billion for defense, a cut of $18.1 billion from what the administration envisioned but $5 billion more than last year's amount. War costs for Iraq and Afghanistan would be covered separately at a cost of $158 billion.

Alex Brandon, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — Tea partyers insistent on cutting military spending and foreign aid will find plenty to like in the deal struck by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders.

No money for an alternative engine for the multibillion-dollar Joint Strike Fighter. Millions of dollars in cuts for the United Nations. A major reduction in spending on the Global Agriculture and Food Security Fund.

It all adds up to billions less for the Pentagon and the State Department than what Obama had requested for the budget year ending Sept. 30, a reflection of the widespread congressional belief that every element of government spending is on the chopping block in an era of trillion-dollar-plus deficits.

The hard-fought deal negotiated by the president, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., calls for $513 billion for defense, a cut of $18.1 billion from what the administration envisioned but $5 billion more than last year's amount. War costs for Iraq and Afghanistan would be covered separately at a cost of $158 billion.

The State Department and foreign operations would get $48.3 billion, an $8.4 billion reduction from Obama's proposal and a cut of $504 million from last year. The House and Senate are expected to vote this week on the overall package of $38 billion in cuts.

The alternative engine was the target of a battle cry for cost-cutting Republican newcomers in February.

House GOP freshmen led the charge to cancel $450 million for a second engine for the nearly 2,500 F-35 fighters the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps plan to buy and fly over the next 40 years. Neither Obama nor Defense Secretary Robert Gates wanted the second engine, with Gates telling Congress that it required an additional $3 billion to develop and that spending such money "in a time of economic distress" was a waste.

But Boehner and other House GOP leaders backed the extra engine built by General Electric and Rolls Royce in Ohio and Indiana.

Fears that it would be revived in the compromise bill proved unfounded.

"Given the overwhelming bipartisan support my amendment enjoyed in the House, I appreciate Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Reid including this cut in the final agreement they negotiated," said two-term Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla. "The extra engine is a luxury we simply cannot afford."

Said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Armed Services Committee: "Not only did they not fund the alternate engine ... but they rescinded money from a previous year. I thought that represented the kind of elimination of duplicative spending that we need to address."

Last month, the Pentagon ordered a halt to work on the second engine. It plans to buy engines solely from Pratt & Whitney of Hartford, Conn.

Still, officials in the defense industry say proponents of the alternative engine may try to restore the money in future military budgets, long after Gates has retired as defense secretary. In the interim, the company would use its own money to try to keep the production line open.

In February, Gates said his bottom line number for the defense budget was $540 billion, tens of billions more than what the White House and congressional leaders worked out.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said resolution was critical.

"The most important thing is getting a budget for the year. It lowers the level of uncertainty," Reed said. "The consequences of not having a budget are delay and maybe even deferring important projects at a cost of more money. It's very inefficient."

But he added that if lawmakers are "truly committed to reducing the deficit," they have to look at every program.

The bill calls for cuts in 759 defense programs.

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