With staff from the House and Senate Armed Services committees having reconciled many of the differences between competing versions of the fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill, the committees’ leadership this week will begin to hash out the higher profile issues that have not yet been settled.
The committees’ chairmen, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and ranking members, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), will focus on more contentious issues affecting the future of the A-10 Warthog aircraft, the Army National Guard helicopter fleet and a Navy initiative to modernize its cruiser fleet.
The panels’ best bet for clearing the annual defense policy bill during the lame duck session starting today almost certainly will be to repeat last year’s maneuver, reported CQ Roll Call. After the Senate version stalled on the chamber floor last November, the committees’ leaders worked out a “pre-conferenced” measure that ultimately passed both chambers.
One issue the committees will need to resolve is their differing approaches to keeping the A-10 alive in the face of the Air Force’s proposal to retire the close air support aircraft and save $4.2 billion over the next five years. The Senate Armed Services bill includes $320 million to preserve the aircraft through FY 2015, offsetting the cost by making undisclosed cuts elsewhere in the defense budget. The House measure tapped the overseas contingency operations account for $635 million for that purpose.
On other issues related to the military’s force structure the chambers are further apart. The Senate legislation adopts the Navy’s plan to take 11 Navy cruisers out of service for modernization. The House, however, rejected the Navy’s request, which is designed to extend the service lives of the ships.
The committee’s leadership also will need to address the Army’s plan to shift 192 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the National Guard to active-duty units. The Senate bill calls for the creation of an independent commission to review the balance of forces and roles among the Army’s active and reserve components, while blocking officials from moving all but 48 of the Guard helicopters until the commission completes its review in early 2016. The House version bars the Army from shifting any Apache helicopters to the active component.