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Senators call on Pentagon to reinstate funding for Stars and Stripes newspaper

Senators call on Pentagon to reinstate funding for Stars and Stripes newspaper
© Greg Nash

A coalition of Republican and Democratic senators are calling on the Defense Department to reinstate funding for Stars and Stripes, the editorially independent military newspaper whose future was put in doubt earlier this year after the Pentagon proposed shifting money away from the outlet.

In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTrump administration official Norquist sworn in as acting Pentagon chief Watch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget Biden needs to fill the leadership gaps on Day One MORE on Wednesday, the senators argued that funding for the newspaper represented a tiny fraction of the department's annual budget and that cutting it could have a "significantly negative impact on military families."

"We understand that DoD plans to cease publication of Stars and Stripes on September 30, 2020 and completely dissolve the organization by January 31, 2021 as a result of the proposed termination of funding in the fiscal year 2021 President's budget," states the letter, which was spearheaded by Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSchumer becomes new Senate majority leader Democrats torn on impeachment trial timing Justice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr without charges MORE (D-Calif.). Signatories included Sens. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthTop Senate Democrat backs waiver for Biden Pentagon nominee Biden pick for Pentagon cruises through confirmation hearing Senate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act MORE (D-Ill.), a veteran, Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators praise Biden's inauguration speech LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing The Memo: Biden prepares for sea of challenges MORE (R-Maine) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

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"We urge you to take steps to preserve the funding prerogatives of Congress before allowing any such disruption to take place," the senators said.   

In an email to The Hill, Stars and Stripes publisher Max Lederer said the acting director of Defense Media Activity told the newspaper last month to stop publishing on Sept. 30 and dissolve the organization by January in order to follow Esper’s decision.

The Pentagon in February released a $705.4 billion fiscal 2021 budget request that included a proposal to slash the $15.5 million in federal funding that would go to Stars and Stripes. Esper said at the time that the proposal was part of an effort to invest that money "into higher-priority issues."

Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon’s acting comptroller, also said the department "essentially decided coming into the modern age that newspaper is probably not the best way we communicate any longer." 

But in their letter, the senators took issue with the speed with which the Pentagon moved to cut the military newspaper's funding. They note the House passed an appropriations bill for the department including additional funding for Stars and Stripes, which also operates online.

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The Senate has not released its defense appropriations bill and has not had an opportunity to conference with the House, meaning Congress may ultimately not agree with the Pentagon's proposal to eliminate the funding.

The senators also said language in last year's continuing resolution prevented the department from acting on elimination of a program until a full-year appropriations bill is enacted. 

The Pentagon did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill. 

Stars and Stripes was first published by Union soldiers during the Civil War and has for decades served as a source of coverage for military news around the world, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. The newspaper reportedly distributed 7 million copies of its U.S. weekly print edition in 2019. 

Sales, subscriptions and advertising account for the majority of Stars and Stripes's money, however the revenue is insufficient to cover the costs of its coverage priorities, Lederer told The Hill. 

“Without funding from appropriations it is not possible to perform the mission established by Congress,” Lederer said. “If funding is not provided and the organization is dissolved all employees will be separated including the newsroom staff.”

Several lawmakers and military officials have spoken out about the proposed funding cuts. Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoThe best way to handle veterans, active-duty military that participated in Capitol riot 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Ariz.), a veteran, said the newspaper served as a "treasured link to home" when he was stationed in Iraq and Okinawa after introducing an amendment to restore its funding in June. 

Retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis said in a tweet last month that while serving as NATO Supreme Commander, he read the newspaper daily. 

"A superb source of information," he said. "Congress is debating an administration proposal gut Stripes' funding. $ involved for @starsandstripesis small but good for troops."

UPDATED 6:40 p.m.