The U.S. House on Thursday overwhelmingly adopted an amendment to the 2015 defense appropriation bill that would prohibit the Pentagon from spending any money to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II jet — a mainstay of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
But the fate of the venerated “Warthog” close-air-support jet remains far from certain, as the Senate still must act, and the issue will likely be hammered out in conference committee.
The amendment’s bipartisan adoption was a victory for Rep. Ron Barber, a Tucson Democrat, and other A-10 supporters, who were chagrined when the House Appropriations Committee left A-10 funding out of its version of the defense spending bill.
“This is a victory for those brave men and women in our armed forces and engaged in ground combat who depend on the A-10,” Barber said in prepared remarks after the late-evening vote. “I am fighting for the A-10 to remain in service because there is no better and more effective aircraft for close air support of our soldiers and Marines on the ground.”
The amendment, primarily sponsored by Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., and Barber, passed on a 300-to-114 vote, with support split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
The amendment prohibits the Pentagon from spending any money to “divest, retire, transfer or place in storage, or prepare to divest, retire, transfer or place in storage any A-10 aircraft.” It also prohibits the Pentagon from closing any active or reserve unit that flies or is otherwise associated with the A-10, Barber’s office noted.
“The Air Force wants to save money, but they don’t have an adequate follow-on at this time, and with what’s happening in Iraq and the Middle East, eliminating the A-10 is the absolute wrong move,” Miller said in a news release.
But where to find the money to keep the A-10 flying remains a major issue.
Opponents, including the chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called the A-10 retirement spending ban disingenuous because it would raise no funds for the A-10, requiring the Air Force to scramble to find about $500 million.
Miller said during debate on the bill Wednesday that A-10 backers were told by the House’s leadership that proposals that identified funding offsets to pay for continued A-10 operations would be blocked on procedural grounds.
A measure to fund the A-10 for a year in the House-passed version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act attracted opposition because it would use $635 million in an as-yet-unsettled overseas war fund. An amendment adopted by the Senate Armed Services Committee would use $339 million in operations funding to pay for A-10 operations for a year.
But the Senate has yet to bring its committee version of the authorization bill to floor debate and a full vote, and the upper chamber has not yet passed its defense appropriations bill out of committee.
Both the defense authorization bill — which sets spending policy but may not dictate actual appropriations — and the defense appropriations bills eventually passed by both chambers will have to be reconciled in conference committees before final votes in both houses.