Omnibus, NDAA, CR, F136 — Sing It!

House CR Allows Dual LCS BuyThe Senate seems to be leaning toward an omnibus spending bill to keep the government going next year. The House is moving a continuing resolution that would effectively freeze spending at current levels. Why does all this matter for the F136, the second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter? After four conversations with congressional aides and congressional experts to try and figure out just what this might mean for the F136, one conclusion stands out stark and clear. It all depends.

House CR Allows Dual LCS Buy

The Senate seems to be leaning toward an omnibus spending bill to keep the government going next year. The House is moving a continuing resolution that would effectively freeze spending at current levels. Why does all this matter for the F136, the second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter?

After four conversations with congressional aides and congressional experts to try and figure out just what this might mean for the F136, one conclusion stands out stark and clear. It all depends.

An omnibus bill could either be much better for the F136 or it could be much worse.  If an omnibus bill can make it through the House and the Senate in the relatively short time left to this Congress, and if it contains language that requires the government spend money on the F136, then it would be good.  If the bill leaves it up to the government whether it wants to fund the F136, then that would effectively hand the Office of Management and Budget the ability to pay for the program or to let it die on the vine. Bet that it would let it die after all those veto threats from President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

If the House CR moves through both bodies and heads to the White House for signature that would effectively hand the White House the same power as an omnibus that does not direct funding. The Continuing Resolution being considered does not contain any language requiring the government to fund the F136.

To some degree this is a game of chicken between the two legislative bodies. The CR is easiest to pass because it is the simplest. But there are factors that weigh in favor of the an omnibus bill. The Democratic leadership is pretty committed to passing Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell legislation and that could be stuffed inside an omnibus. And an omnibus bill can contain far more goodies for

Then again, Sen. Harry Reid, Democratic leader in the Senate, said he wants to pass a defense policy bill. A defense policy bill that made it past the House would be likely to contain language requiring the government spend money on the F136. And there’s that Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell angle again. The Democratic leadership in the House wants to pass it and that language would make most sense in the policy bill.

Finally, the House CR contains language allowing the Navy to buy both version of the Littoral Combat Ship: “The Secretary of the Navy may award 16 a contract or contracts for up to 20 Littoral Combat Ships 17 subject to the availability of appropriated funds for such purpose.”

And in an interesting wrinkle, the House granted the Pentagon “broad authority to realign funding to accommodate programs and projects planned for FY 2011, including new program starts, significant changes in program emphasis or quantities, and
programs not funded in FY 2010 that are planned to resume in FY 2011,” as the bill summary puts it. One caveat: “Funding realignment requires Congressional approval.”