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Defense Spending Bill Causes Stir in Pennsylvania

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Cal
Democratic challengers in Pennsylvania are ripping GOP Members such as Rep. Tom Marino (above) for their votes in support of the defense spending bill.

Some Pennsylvania Republicans are scrambling to explain their votes for a House spending bill now that it appears a range of Army depots and arsenals could face severe, unanticipated cuts under the legislation.

The Defense Department estimated that 3,000 jobs are in the balance nationwide, and one Member of Congress attributes the surprise cuts to an "accounting error."

The issue comes as lawmakers are already feeling pressure over steep automatic spending cuts required by last year's debt limit deal under its pending sequestration provisions.

The House-passed cuts are more of a political cudgel than an actual threat to the defense facilities because House and Senate leaders have already reached a deal for a six-month continuing resolution and the bill at issue is now highly unlikely to become law.

And House lawmakers who spotted the problem during the floor debate on the bill vowed to fix it before it was ever passed in final form.

Still, Democratic challengers in Pennsylvania are ripping GOP Members for their votes in support of the bill.

Phil Scollo, a businessman challenging Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), has turned the issue into a mini-crusade.

"This defense appropriations bill would seriously impact our region's economy and destroy local jobs," Scollo said. "Tom Marino needs to come clean with voters about what actually happened and why he voted for this bill because the story his office told the Times-Leader does not match the record, as told by his own colleagues."

Marino and Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) have offered different explanations for why they voted for the bill, even though it would "eviscerate" the nearby Tobyhanna Army Depot, in the words of a Scranton Times-Tribune editorial.

Bill Tighe, Marino's chief of staff, said the Congressman was assured the problem would be fixed by top Appropriations Committee members.

During the July 18 debate on the bill, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) inserted a letter into the Congressional Record describing the problem.

According to the letter, the spending levels in the bill for arsenals and depots, two specific types of military facilities, were based on the anticipation those facilities had significant "carryover" funds, or money that had been previously appropriated but not yet spent.

"It is our understanding that the Army did not provide a detailed explanation for excessive levels of carryover money until after the Appropriations Committee passed this year's Defense Bill. Once the Army provided this analysis, it became clear to all parties involved that the House Appropriations Committee's proposed funding levels would not provide adequate funding to sustain depots and arsenals throughout Fiscal Year 2013," the letter said.

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