Washington – President Obama’s 2017 proposed budget, released Tuesday, would sharply cut funding for Connecticut-made Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters and trim the number of F-35s the Pentagon would buy, while boosting spending on certain domestic priorities.
The 2017 budget for the Pentagon would grow by less than 1 percent to $583 billion.
The budgetary constraint, coupled with growing global threats from ISIS and Iran in the Middle East and Russia and China, forced the Defense Department to make hard choices, said Undersecretary of Defense Mike McCord.
The budget calls for 63 F-35s in fiscal 2017, down from 66 this year, and a total of 37 fewer F-35s over the next five years. The engine for the F-35 is made by Pratt & Whitney.
McCord said cuts to F-35s and other weapons programs were needed to fund other priorities. “You have to look at the larger programs, that’s where the money is,” he said.
McCord said the increase in per-unit cost for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter “is not expected to be significant” because of the reduced buy.
Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, disagrees.
“The most important Connecticut programs were funded, but not at levels that would guarantee the best price,” Thompson said.
The Pentagon will also purchase far fewer Black Hawks, $976.1 million for 36 of the helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft, down from $1.77 billion for 107 Black Hawks the Defense Department is buying this year.
“We recognize that there were some reductions in our aviation portfolio, but it is not any more or less than our other portfolios,” said Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Horlander.
Despite the cut in Black Hawks, the Army said modernizing its helicopter fleet is a priority.
In addition, the Marines hope to begin to purchase Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopters, a large, heavy-lift cargo helicopter that will replace the older CH-53E Super Stallions. The president’s 2017 budget calls for the purchase of two King Stallions.
The budget continues the two-per-year purchase of Virginia class submarines, made jointly by Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding.
But the Pentagon has boosted the amount of money for another Electric Boat program, the Virginia Payload Module, which lengthens of the Virginia-class boats so they can carry more cruise missiles.
The budget would also increase the money for the Ohio class replacement submarine, from $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion, to move forward on this new class of boats.
But when the first Ohio-class replacement sub is built in 2021, the Navy will only fund one Virginia-class sub, the budget says.
Under the Pentagon’s proposal, the Air Force would receive the largest funding increase from 2016, from 161.8 billion to $166.9 billion. The Army’s funding would also grow a little, from $146.9 billion to $148 billion, while the Navy’s budget would be cut from $168.8 billion to $164.9 billion.
Thompson said Congress is likely to modify Obama’s request for the Defense Department, as it has every year.
“This is just the opening salvo in a budget process that will unfold over the next 12 months,” he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized the funding level, saying the Pentagon needed $17 billion more.
“President Obama had an opportunity to request a defense budget that our nation demands and our military deserves. He has not done so. Congress should not make the same mistake,” McCain said.
Head Start and ‘Cadillac’ health plans
Of the $4.1 trillion budget proposal Obama sent to Congress Monday, about $1.1 trillion is for discretionary spending. The rest is for mandatory spending on Social Security, Medicaid and other entitlement programs and obligations.
Discretionary spending is nearly evenly split between defense and domestic programs
Obama’s latest, and last, budget contains ambitious election-year proposals unlikely to be passed by a Republican Congress.
But it also contains some proposals, including a boost in spending for cancer research and $1 billion to combat opioid abuse over the next two years, that may be more achievable.
Obama has asked Congress for $2 billion for new Pell grants for year-round students and more money for the Department of Health and Human Resources to fight the Zika virus and for Head Start so eligible children can spend more time in pre-school.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, applauded the budget’s expansion of some programs, but she said it “also makes cuts to critical programs that serve millions of hardworking low- and middle-income Americans.”
“We cannot cut funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps keep the heat on for seniors and families. And we cannot cut discretionary funding for community health centers or the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education Program, which bring health care within reach for many Americans,” DeLauro said.
To help pay for the budget, Obama proposed a $10 a barrel tax on oil and the end of certain tax breaks for wealthy Americans and corporations.
His budget also called for a modification in the “Cadillac tax” imposed by the Affordable Care Act that Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, was successful in delaying for a year.
The tax is a surcharge on expensive health care policies. Currently, beginning in 2020, health plans will have to pay a 40 percent excise tax on the cost of coverage over $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for families. The limits are expected to adjust upward before the tax takes effect in 2020.
Under the president’s budget, the tax would reflect regional differences in the cost of practicing medicine, reducing the tax’s bite where care is expensive, including much of Connecticut.
The modification has not appeased the Cadillac tax’s foes, which include labor unions and many large corporations.