Defense spending bill would limit Pentagon's ability to shift money after border wall transfers

Defense spending bill would limit Pentagon's ability to shift money after border wall transfers
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A defense spending bill released Tuesday by House Democrats would limit the amount of money the Pentagon is allowed to transfer between accounts after it unilaterally shifted money for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE’s proposed border wall.

The inclusion of the provision in the fiscal 2020 defense spending bill comes after the Pentagon broke decades of precedent by transferring money without congressional leaders’ approval to build the wall.

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“The bill ensures that our service members are trained and equipped to do their jobs safely and effectively and that they are prepared for future military needs,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyOn The Money: Trump seeks to shift spotlight from impeachment to economy | Appropriators agree to Dec. 20 funding deadline | New study says tariffs threaten 1.5M jobs Appropriators agree to Dec. 20 funding deadline Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

“We have the most capable and advanced military in the world, and this bill honors their mission by adequately funding programs to care for service members and their families, and by protecting defense funding from being stolen for the president’s wasteful wall.”

Overall, the bill would provide $690.2 billion for the Pentagon in fiscal 2020, an increase of $15.8 billion over fiscal 2019.

The total is split between $622.1 billion in base budget funding and $68.1 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

It’s also consistent with an overall $733 billion defense budget when including money outside the scope of the bill, including military construction and Energy Department nuclear programs.

The bill, seeking to respond to what a Democratic summary describes as “abuse,” would reduce the Pentagon’s authority to transfer money from the $9.5 billion requested to $1.5 billion. It would also reduce the threshold for reprogramming funding that was previously approved.

Last week, acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary MORE approved transferring $1.5 billion from various accounts to be used on Trump’s border wall. That followed approval in March to transfer $1 billion to the wall.

The transfers infuriated Democrats, particularly because they bucked tradition that the leaders of the relevant congressional committees sign off on reprogramming money.

The bill released Tuesday would also prohibit any funding included in the bill to be used to build border barriers.

The legislation would fund an active-duty end strength of 1,337,500 troops. That’s 600 fewer than now and 2,000 fewer than the Pentagon requested.

It would also fund a 3.1 percent pay raise for troops, as requested.

For aircraft, the bill would provide $8.7 billion to buy 90 F-35 fighter jets, or 12 more than requested. It would also buy all eight F-15EX jets the administration requested, costing $986 million.

The bill would also prohibit delivering any F-35s or related equipment to Turkey. Lawmakers are concerned about Turkey getting both the F-35 and a Russian missile defense system, which Ankara has insisted it will buy despite U.S. threats to withhold the F-35.

The measure would also provide $21.7 billion to buy 11 Navy ships, including three guided missile destroyers, two attack submarines, one frigate, one Ford-class aircraft carrier, two fleet oilers and two towing, salvage and rescue ships.

The bill would also give $1.3 billion to the Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund and $4.5 billion to the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund.

In Afghanistan, lawmakers have been concerned about the Trump administration’s efforts to negotiate an end to the war with the Taliban without participation of the Afghan government or Afghan women. Tuesday’s defense spending bill would block money from being used for the Taliban to participate in a meeting if members of the Afghan government are not there or women are restricting from participating.

The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee is scheduled to consider the bill Wednesday morning.