House passes defense spending bill in symbolic vote
The House on Tuesday passed a $659.2 billion defense spending bill for fiscal 2018 in a largely symbolic move.
The bill, which was approved in a 250-166 mostly party-line vote, is unlikely to be enacted into law as a larger deal to raise budget caps continues to be worked out. Four Republicans voted “no,” while 23 Democrats voted “yes.”
The passage provides an opportunity for Republicans to tout their commitment to increasing the defense budget ahead of Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, in which President Trump is expected to reaffirm his desire to build up the military.
“Congress must act responsibly and do its job to quickly get these dollars out the door and where they’re needed as soon as possible,” Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said on the House floor.
“All federal dollars are not the same,” she added. “We need to provide and prioritize national security after years of neglect in an increasingly dangerous international situation.”
Prior to Tuesday, the House already passed defense appropriations for fiscal 2018 twice. But the Senate has not voted on a defense spending bill because Congress has yet to agree to a budget deal that would set the top-line dollar figure for defense and nondefense funding.
Tuesday’s third vote on the bill came after House Republican leadership promised defense hawks and the conservative Freedom Caucus it would take up the bill again in exchange for their votes on a stopgap spending measure.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) has said he received a similar assurance that the Senate would vote on a separate defense spending bill. But it is unlikely to pass given Democrats are needed to meet a 60-vote threshold to approve legislation in the upper chamber.
House Democrats on Tuesday hit Republicans for holding the vote while failing to reach a budget agreement.
“As an appropriator, all I want is a number,” Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), ranking member of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said on the floor. “Give us a number, and we will finish our work for this fiscal year and give certainty that has been repeatedly asked for by the Department of Defense and our 17 intelligence agencies.”
“Unfortunately, operating under the fourth continuing resolution and passing essentially the same defense appropriations measure for a third time does nothing, nothing to solve the number problem. Nor does it remedy the slight inconvenience that this bill exceeds the Budget Control Act by $35 billion.”
The bill passed Tuesday is “virtually the same” as the previous fiscal 2018 defense appropriations bills, according to a House Appropriations Committee release last week.
It would provide $659.2 billion the Pentagon, including $584 billion for the base budget and $75.1 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.
The main difference from the previous bills is $1.2 billion more in OCO for Afghanistan operations.
When added to the $4.7 billion in emergency missile defense and ship repair funds passed as part of a continuing resolution in December, the bill would mean a total of $664 billion for the Pentagon for fiscal 2018, consistent with the funding levels authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act.