House Appropriations passes defense bill that would limit funds for border wall, pull US support from Yemen war

House Appropriations passes defense bill that would limit funds for border wall, pull US support from Yemen war
© Greg Nash

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday passed its version of the fiscal year 2020 defense spending bill, voting along party lines for legislation that falls $8 billion below what the Trump administration requested, curtails the use of defense dollars to build a border wall and ends U.S. military support for the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen. 

The panel voted 30 to 22 to move ahead the bill that funds the Defense Department at $690.2 billion in fiscal year 2020, $15.8 billion above what was allocated the previous year but $8 billion below the White House’s request.

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Broken down, it includes $622.1 billion in base funding and $68.1 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations  (OCO) war fund.

“The Defense subcommittee has put forward a responsible spending bill that increases funds by $1 billion to address readiness requirements and ensure the well-being of our service members and their families,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTrump officials say aid to Puerto Rico was knowingly stalled after Hurricane Maria McConnell tees up government funding votes amid stalemate Dem committee chairs blast Trump G-7 announcement MORE (D-N.Y.).  

“This bill also would prohibit the use of funds for President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview MORE’s wasteful border wall, reserving DOD resources to protect the United States from actual threats, rather than those imagined by our President. This reflects a commitment to our national security for which we can all be proud.” 

The bill reflects House Democrats’ desire to curtail Trump’s recent moves in foreign policy and along the border, most notably through Rep. Barbara Lee's (D-Calif.) amendment to retire the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF). The provision would sunset the AUMF – used as legal justification for military operations against terrorist groups 41 times in 18 countries since it was passed – eight months after the bill is enacted, giving Congress time to debate and vote on a new AUMF.

The AUMF debate comes as Trump has threatened Iran with military force.

But GOP lawmakers argued ending the current war authorization without a new one already approved could hamper military operations.

“I can think of few things more dangerous and ill-conceived than removing a fundamental underpinning for US military operations without having consensus agreement on what is to replace it,” said the Defense subcommittee's ranking member, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas). 

Another amendment from Lee, adopted along party lines, would prohibit the bill’s funds for use of force against Iran. 

The legislation’s passage also sets up a fight over the bill’s language to restrict the Pentagon's reprogram authority – or the amount of money it is allowed to move from the purpose for which the funds were designated into another area – to $1.5 billion. The move was a response to Trump's use of reprogram authority to move defense dollars to the construction of his promised border wall.

“It is unfortunate that the historical and unprecedented comity that has existed between the Committee and the Department of Defense no longer exists, and as a result, the bill reduces the amount of money the Department can move between accounts,” said House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman Pete Visclosky.

In addition, the bill is likely rankle the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House over its $690.2 billion defense top-line, which GOP lawmakers said would exceed budget caps and force budget cuts under sequestration.

The administration had instead sought to inflate its OCO request to $164.3 billion to stay under the caps, but Democrats accused the White House of attempting to set up a slush fund.

The bill also only allocated $15 million for the Pentagon to research setting up Trump’s desired Space Force, far below the $72 million the department requested to build a Space Force headquarters.

Democrats have not been pleased with the administration’s sparsely detailed plans for a separate space branch, and Visclosky said the Pentagon’s Space Force proposal was “incredibly lacking in detail.”

After a lively debate on topics including the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey and possible conflicts in the Middle East, the committee adopted five amendments to the bill.

Among those was Lee’s provision to repeal the 2001 AUMF, her provision to prohibit funds for conflict with Iran, and an amendment by Rep. Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerLawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show Hillicon Valley: Senate passes bill to boost cyber help for agencies, businesses | Watchdog warns Energy Department failing to protect grid | FTC sues Match for allegedly conning users Senate approves bill to boost cyber assistance for federal agencies, private sector MORE (D-Calif.) to prohibit funds to support the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Congress earlier this year passed a resolution invoking the War Powers Act to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Trump last month, however, vetoed the resolution which the House failed to override.

Also adopted was an amendment from Reps. Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryHouse Democrats urge Trump to end deportations of Iraqis after diabetic man's death House Appropriations passes defense bill that would limit funds for border wall, pull US support from Yemen war Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill MORE (R-Neb.), and David PriceDavid Eugene PriceTrump officials say aid to Puerto Rico was knowingly stalled after Hurricane Maria DeLauro enters race to succeed Lowey as Appropriations chief A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal MORE (D-N.C.) to provides $241.2 million for equipment to help recover the flood-ravaged Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and two Marine Corps bases in North Carolina, Cherry Point and New River, damaged by hurricanes last year.